Trump vows to win war against opioid drug use

A heroin user in New York City reading an alert on fentanyl, which, data shows, is one of the opioids linked to US drug overdoses.
A heroin user in New York City reading an alert on fentanyl, which, data shows, is one of the opioids linked to US drug overdoses.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

But he offers no new steps to fight problem linked to over 33,000 US deaths in 2015

BRIDGEWATER (New Jersey) • US President Donald Trump has promised to win the fight against an epidemic of opioid drug use in America, but offered no new steps to do so in a speech on Tuesday. He also did not act on a recommendation made by a presidential commission that he declare a national emergency.

Mr Trump was speaking at an event he had billed as a "major briefing" on the opioid crisis during a two-week "working vacation" at his private golf club in New Jersey.

He said the US has no alternative but to stem spreading opioid use, but announced no new policies to combat the public health crisis that kills more than 100 Americans each day.

"I'm confident that, by working with our healthcare and law enforcement experts, we will fight this deadly epidemic and the US will win," Mr Trump told reporters.

"We're also very, very tough on the southern border where much of this comes in, and we're talking to China, where certain forms of man-made drugs come in, and it is bad," he said.

US Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said that the administration was still working to devise "a comprehensive strategy" to be presented to Mr Trump "in the near future".

A commission created by Mr Trump to study opioid abuse urged him last week to declare a national emergency to address what it called an opioids crisis, framing its death toll in the context of the Sept 11, 2001, attacks on the US. An emergency declaration could free up federal resources for the effort.

"The resources that we need or the focus that we need to bring to bear to the opioid crisis at this point can be addressed without the declaration of an emergency, although all things are on the table for the President," Mr Price later told a news briefing.

According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids were involved in more than 33,000 US deaths in 2015, the latest year for which data is available, and estimates show the death rate has continued rising.

The commission recommended steps such as waiving a federal rule that restricts the number of people who can get residential addiction treatment under the Medicaid healthcare programme for the poor and disabled.

It cited government data showing that, since 1999, US opioid overdoses have quadrupled, adding that nearly two thirds of US drug overdoses were linked to opioids such as heroin and the powerful painkillers Percocet, OxyContin and fentanyl.

Speaking alongside Mr Price, White House senior counsellor Kellyanne Conway said the crisis cannot be solved overnight, and that "most of the great work is being done at the state and local levels".

Even before Mr Trump's event, the Democratic National Committee slammed him, with spokesman Daniel Wessel saying in a statement:"Trump promised he'd come to the aid of communities ravaged by the opioid epidemic, but so far he's done nothing for them."

Mr Trump's initial federal budget called for a 2 per cent increase in drug treatment programmes and would provide funds to increase border security to stop the flow of drugs into the country.

Substance abuse treatment activists have criticised his proposed cuts to federal prevention and research programmes as well as his calls to shrink Medicaid, which covers drug treatment for Americans.

Mr Trump last week came under fire after a leaked transcript of a January conversation with the Mexican President showed Mr Trump had called the New England state, hard-hit by the opioid epidemic, a "drug-infested den".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2017, with the headline 'Trump vows to win war against opioid drug use'. Print Edition | Subscribe