Trump administration leaders gathered for a summit on the opioid epidemic Thursday, offering a more comprehensive look at initiatives underway at the White House to combat the crisis.
President Donald Trump said the administration would be rolling out new policies over the next several weeks that take aim at the epidemic. Trump said he has had discussions with Attorney General Jeff Sessions on taking legal action against opioid manufacturers, and he also said the administration wants to crack down on drug traffickers.
He noted that many people become addicted to drugs through prescriptions. Policies the administration is planning will be "very, very strong," Trump said.
Trump alludes to Duterte-like punishments he'd like for drug dealers.— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 1, 2018
"The drug dealers are really doing damage. Some countries have a very, very tough penalty. The ultimate penalty. They have much less of a problem than we do. So we're going to have to be very strong." pic.twitter.com/Da0Gv6Nxua
"We've been involved more than any administration by far," he said.
The calls to be tougher on drug dealers echoes statements Trump made as part of his State of the Union address. His administration has made the opioid epidemic a focus, but providers have been critical of many moves made so far, including the lack of funding that accompanies the White House's declaration that the epidemic is a public health emergency.
The president convened a task force on the issue shortly after taking office, but has not followed through with much of what the commission suggested. Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy said the work was a "sham" and a "charade."
The administration has also sidelined its own drug policy office in its opioid response, and instead counselor Kellyanne Conway has spearheaded the efforts.
A bipartisan group of legislators unveiled a bill earlier this week that takes aim at the opioid epidemic, which would set a three-day prescribing limit for opioids prescribed for acute pain and would require physicians and pharmacists to use their state's prescription drug monitoring programs.
Meanwhile, lawmakers at the state level are re-examining polices that may prevent people from getting timely treatment. For example, in Minnesota, officials are trying a program to reduce wait times.
The White House summit included two panels, one with a focus on the addiction prevention, recovery and education elements of the epidemic and a second that focused on the law enforcement side. Conway moderated both discussions.
Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said HHS is "eager" to work with governors on solutions, including on a project that allows states to address drug addiction treatment gaps in their Medicaid programs.
Azar said that HHS as approved five waivers in the program so far, and that at the recent National Governors Association meeting he "berated" governors for lot taking advantage of the opportunity.
.@POTUS has gathered an impressive group here today, including leaders from non-profit organizations focused on addiction & recovery, officials from across the government, and individuals impacted by the crisis. pic.twitter.com/ljHIMj1aCE— Alex Azar (@SecAzar) March 1, 2018
"At HHS and across this administration, we know that we need to treat addiction as a medical challenge and not as a moral failing," Azar said.
Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin touted successes at the VA on curbing opioid use, including a 41% reduction in opioid prescriptions between 2012 and 2017. The VA also become the country's first health system to publish its opioid prescribing rates earlier this year.
"We have a lot to learn from each other," Shulkin said.
A video of the full summit is embedded below: