Public health experts skeptical that spending plan will lead to gun violence research, effectively address opioid crisis

The recently passed federal spending plan would allow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study gun violence, but experts say that it doesn't go far enough. 

The omnibus spending legislation—which President Donald Trump signed on Friday—includes a clarification of the Dickey amendment, which prevented the use of federal money to advocate or promote gun control. The amendment had long been interpreted to prevent federal agencies from studying the issue. 

However, gun violence experts say that they're not optimistic that the change will lead to significant research, according to an article from National Public Radio. 

"There's no funding. There's no agreement to provide funding. There isn't even encouragement," Garen Wintemute, M.D., a gun violence expert and professor of emergency medicine at the University of California, Davis, told the outlet. "No big questions get answered, and there's nothing here, yet, of significance for the research community." 

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Advocates of research into gun violence have pushed for CDC to do so in the wake of the Parkland school shooting in February, which left 17 people dead. Following the shooting, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said he was open to allowing the agency conduct studies on guns. 

Georges Benjamin, M.D., executive director of the American Public Health Association, told NPR that ideally the budget would have included more than a clarification, by providing dedicated funding and "strong" language to make it clear that research is permissible and encouraged.

But, he said that the budget language did open the door for more gun research, and that public health groups should be able to find the money to conduct such studies in their allocations.

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Public health experts also warned that the amount of funding included in the spending plan for the opioid crisis may not meet need. Congress set aside more than $4 billion to be split among several opioid initiatives, including for law enforcement and additional research.

That is just a drop in the bucket, though, compared to what is needed to fully mobilize against the drug addiction epidemic, according to an article from the Associated Press. A recent report from the White House estimates that the opioid epidemic cost more than $500 billion in 2015. 

"We still have lacked the insight that this is a crisis, a cataclysmic crisis," former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who served on Trump's opioid commission, told the AP. 

In response, states are stepping up to fill the gaps, according to the article. Ohio Gov. John Kasich estimates that the state is spending $1 billion a year on opioid programs, while New Jersey has put $200 million toward combating the crisis.