President Donald Trump yesterday vowed that the U.S. will fight and win the battle against the deadly opioid epidemic but stopped short of declaring it a national emergency as a White House Commission recommended last week.
Trump, originally scheduled to appear at a press briefing to discuss the opioid crisis, bowed out as he dealt with the latest crisis with North Korea and its development of nuclear weapons. However, Trump was briefed by administration officials on the status of the opioid crisis.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway attended the press briefing. Both were asked about the president’s decision not to declare a national emergency. The commission Trump established to study the problem made the declaration its number-one recommendation in a report it released last week.
Price said most national emergencies are declared to address a focused, time-limited crisis such as the threat from the Zika virus or damage from Hurricane Sandy. He said the administration believes at this point they have the resources needed to address the opioid problem, “but all things are on the table.”
“It is an emergency,” Price said, adding that the number of people who die each year from opioids would fill Yankee Stadium.
The president and First Lady Melania Trump attended a meeting earlier in the day at Trump’s golf course in Bedminister, New Jersey, in which Price discussed the administration’s efforts to combat the epidemic.
“We will fight this deadly epidemic and the United States will win,” Trump said in remarks before the briefing.
Trump emphasized law enforcement efforts to combat the epidemic and the need to prevent drug addiction, particularly among young people.
“The best way to prevent drug addiction and overdose is to prevent people from abusing drugs in the first place. If they don’t start, they won't have a problem. If they do start, it's awfully tough to get off. So we can keep them from going on, and maybe by talking to youth and telling them, 'No good; really bad for you' in every way. But if they don’t start, it will never be a problem,” he said.
At the press briefing, Conway said both the president and first lady see the situation as an epidemic.
Price added that the commission report is being reviewed by the administration, but much of what it recommended is already being done without declaring a national emergency.
Price hinted that HHS is looking to modify privacy laws to allow family members to be aware of a patient’s addiction and spoke about the need to make overdose-reversing Narcan more available, develop pain medication that is not addictive, and better educate doctors about how to treat pain.
A reporter asked about critics' charges that Trump-backed healthcare legislation would cut funding for Medicaid and drug treatment programs. “The healthcare challenge across the country is not dead,” Price said. “Nobody is interested in cutting Medicaid” but rather the focus should be on making the federal program work for patients.
Both Price and Conway spoke to the seriousness of the opioid crisis. Price said there were 52,000 overdose deaths in 2015, many of them attributed to opioids, a number that has grown each year since. “The president understands the magnitude of this challenge,” Price said. “He is absolutely committed to turn this scourge in the right direction.”
“No state has been spared and no demographic group has gone untouched,” Conway said.
“We are confident we can help those in need across the country,” Conway said, but she cautioned that the opioid epidemic did not happen overnight “and we know we can’t solve the crisis overnight either.”