- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2017

President Trump declared opioid-addiction a public health emergency Thursday, unlocking additional federal assistance for treatment and pledging a crackdown on drug traffickers, but leaving it to Congress to pump more money into solutions.

Mr. Trump said his agencies will use “every authority” to defeat a crisis that’s killing more people than gun homicides and car crashes combined and afflicts the rich and poor, young and old.

“Nobody has seen anything like what’s going on now. As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue,” Mr. Trump said in a speech at the White House. “We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic.”

He called for educating doctors to prescribe addictive painkillers with care, promoting the use of medication to wean people off opioids, and loosening federal rules to expand access to treatment beds.

Mr. Trump said he will urge Chinese President Xi Jinping, in person, to crack down on his country’s production of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic that is flooding the U.S. heroin supply and driving fatal overdoses.

He will direct the Department of Labor to assist workers who’ve been dislocated by addiction, while leveraging existing programs to make sure people who suffer from both HIV/AIDS and opioids addiction get adequate help.

And Mr. Trump said his crackdown on gangs and a planned border wall with Mexico will disrupt drug supply chains.

“I want the American people to know the federal government is aggressively fighting the opioids epidemic on all fronts,” he said.

Yet the president is relying on Congress to pony up an unspecific boost in funding as part of an end-of-year spending deal, further complicating a looming December fight needed to keep the federal government open.

Democrats and advocates who’d hoped for a major boost in funding called the proposal “grossly inadequate,” “essentially meaningless” and a “drop in the bucket” in the face of a problem that affects every corner of the U.S.

“An emergency of this magnitude must be met with sustained, robust funding and comprehensive treatment programs,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat. “The administration’s proposal falls drastically short of what American communities desperately need.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called it “words without money.”

Others took a softer approach, viewing it as a first step that still doesn’t match the enormity of the task.

“President Trump’s announcement today is much-needed step to fight the opioid epidemic that’s ravaging Missouri communities. But it’s critically important that it’s paired with additional resources to help tackle this crisis,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who faces a tough re-election campaign in a red state.

Drug overdoses killed more than 60,000 people in the U.S. last year, claiming more American lives than the Vietnam War.

Many people got hooked during an influx of prescription opioids over the past two decades, only to turn to cheaper heroin when their supply of pills ran out.

Mr. Trump made combatting the problem a major plank of his 2016 campaign, and formed a commission earlier this year to make recommendations. Over the summer the commission urged the president to declare an emergency.

But the president delayed, as lawyers debated the right law under which to make such a declaration.

In the end, the government opted to use the Public Health Service Act, which relies on a public health fund, as the avenue for combatting the emergency. Administration officials acknowledged that Congress hasn’t put enough money into the fund, so it will have to negotiate the proper funding levels with lawmakers.

The emergency declaration lasts for 90 days but can be renewed.

Republican leaders praised Mr. Trump’s leadership and vowed to continue the fight, but without promising a taxpayer investment.

“Building on actions Congress has already taken, this directive will help states and local communities better fight this battle, and strengthen the tools available at the federal level,” said House Speaker Paul D. Ryan.

Congress last tackled the opioids issue during the 2016 campaign, approving a pair of high-profile bills that expanded treatment options and the use of overdose-reversing drugs, while doling out $1 billion in state grants to combat the issue.

Democrats said that was only a down payment on what’s needed. Fifteen of them introduced a Senate bill Wednesday seeking $45 billion to combat the epidemic — an amount equal to what GOP leaders included for anti-opioid abuse funding in their failed Obamacare repeal bill.

Senior administration officials argue that Mr. Trump already has proven his commitment to the opioids fight.

The Department of Justice recently indicted two Chinese nationals for their role in trafficking fentanyl. It also launched an awareness campaign that urges Americans to avoid drugs before they become addicted.

And the administration is doling out the grants that Congress approved under President Obama to help states expand treatment options and the use of overdose-reversing drugs.

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