- The Washington Times - Monday, September 11, 2017

Senate Democrats on Monday demanded to know why President Trump hasn’t followed through on his month-old pledge to declare the opioids crisis a national emergency, saying the delay is forcing them to question his commitment to the fight.

Mr. Trump caught Congress by surprise in early August when he said his team was “drawing documents” to exercise emergency powers to act on the heroin and prescription-painkiller scourge.

The pledge appeared to overrule Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who days earlier suggested a declaration wasn’t necessary.

“Since then, however, your administration has yet to make such a declaration, leaving another unfilled promise to provide overdue relief to the individuals and communities who continue to suffer,” Sen. Edward Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, and nine party colleagues wrote in a letter to Mr. Trump.

Democrats said they need to know what’s taking so long, or whether the White House plans to free up new resources soon, since more Americans are dying from drug overdoses than ever before.

The White House said Monday that the process is “more involved” than just issuing a declaration, and requires legal and administrative vetting, and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Mr. Trump is taking the opioids crisis “very seriously.”

“The commission and members of the administration have continued to meet and work on the details of that national declaration and that is certainly a big priority,” she told reporters.

Preliminary figures from the National Center for Health Statistics suggest that overdose-related deaths soared to more than 64,000 in 2016, a more than 20-percent increase from 2015. Experts attribute the surge to the deadly influx of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids into the heroin supply.

Mr. Trump promised to address the problem during last year’s campaign, saying his push to build a border wall with Mexico would help stem the flow of drugs into the U.S. He then tapped New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a GOP primary rival-turned-ally, to lead a new commission on opioid abuse.

In late July, Mr. Christie’s panel urged Mr. Trump to declare a national emergency. The president offered verbal agreement Aug. 10, yet he hasn’t produced the promised paperwork.

In their letter, Democrats asked the White House to explain how long that review might take, which agencies are involved, and whether the effort will commit “new and robust” resources to the fight.

They also asked how Mr. Trump planned to implement the ideas that Mr. Christie has proposed so far, from increasing access to medication-assisted treatment to stopping the flow of dangerous synthetic opioids through U.S. mail from foreign postal systems, particularly China’s.

Democrats have said Mr. Trump’s budget, which proposes cuts to Medicaid, would hurt opioid treatment efforts, contrasting with his words about taking the crisis seriously.

“Your lack of action — coupled with your support of policies that would make access to substance abuse disorder care and treatment more difficult for millions of Americans — causes us to question your commitment to ending the opioid use disorder and overdose crisis,” the senators wrote in their letter Monday.

Democrats aren’t the only ones pushing the Trump administration to do more.

Iowa’s two Republican senators, Charles E. Grassley and Joni Ernst, urged the administration on Friday to evaluate “takeback programs” that help people properly dispose of unused pills.

“Unfortunately, the interim report did not include any reference to prescription drug take back programs,” Mr. Grassley and Ms. Ernst wrote to Richard Baum, acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. “We believe these programs may be an effective part of an all-of-the-above strategy to approaching the opioid epidemic.”

⦁ S.A. Miller contributed to this report.

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