- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2018

Moving to prove he’s serious about the opioids fight, President Trump requested $10 billion in new money Monday to combat the “deadly scourge” of prescription painkiller and heroin abuse in 2019.

Congress last week agreed to a new budget that would spend $3 billion in 2018 and another $3 billion next year. The White House gave its own stamp of approval to the 2018 figure, but proposed more than tripling the 2019 figure.

The funding request is part of a broader, multi-trillion dollar blueprint that expresses Mr. Trump’s priorities after Congress agreed last week on higher levels for military and non-military spending for the current and upcoming fiscal years.

Overdose deaths are killing more people than homicides and car crashes combined in parts of the U.S., as potent fentanyl and other synthetic opioids flood the heroin market.

Mr. Trump deemed the problem a public health emergency last fall, though he didn’t demand a specific dollar amount at the time, prompting critics to question whether he was all talk and little action.

The Office of Management and Budget said his new request “reflects a solemn and unshakable commitment to liberate communities from the scourge of opioids and drug addiction.”

All told, the blueprint seeks $17 billion in opioids-related spending across multiple agencies, including money to highlight the dangers of opioids through a media campaign, disrupt drug trafficking networks and improve custom agents’ ability to detect illicit drugs at ports of entry.

The HHS investment seeks to enact major policy recommendations from the White House’s commission on opioids, which had former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as chairman.

It would expand the use of drug courts for addicts who land in the criminal justice system, support medication-assisted treatment for addicts and enhance grants to states for workers on the front lines of the crisis, which killed 42,000 Americans in 2016 alone.

The president wants $500 million for a public-private partnership between the National Institutes of Health and pharmaceutical companies to develop ways to treat addiction and offer non-addictive treatments for pain.

Also, the administration said that under Congress‘ two-year budget deal, it is seeking $18 billion for a wall along the U.S. southern border, saying it is “critical to impeding and denying the flow of illicit drugs into our country.”

Critics of Mr. Trump’s efforts to date applauded the push for opioids-centric money but said proposed cuts elsewhere, particularly to public insurance programs that may cover treatment, threatened to cancel out potential gains.

“I appreciate that the Trump Administration is acknowledging what members of both parties have long known to be true — that we need a significant increase in federal resources to combat the opioid crisis, as we worked to secure in the bipartisan budget agreement that passed last week,” said Sen. Maggie Hassan, New Hampshire Democrat. “However, the details of the administration’s proposal reveal that it’s really just a shell game, giving the appearance of increasing federal resources to combat the opioid crisis while including massive cuts in other areas that would severely harm our efforts to turn the tide of this epidemic, including slashing Medicaid and ending Medicaid expansion.”

The budget request is a reflection of the White House’s priorities, yet Congress controls the nation’s purse strings and will debate how much money its should provide in response to Mr. Trump’s wishes.

Congress settled on $6 billion through 2019 in the budget deal it approved Friday, agreeing to direct larger shares of the money to states with high opioids-related mortality rates.

Early Monday, Mr. Trump highlighted the opioids fight on his closely watched Twitter account by reaching out to Sue Kruczek, who appeared on the “Fox and Friends” television program to discuss losing her son to an opioids overdose.

“Thank you to Sue Kruczek, who lost her wonderful and talented son Nick to the Opioid scourge, for your kind words while on @foxandfriends,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “We are fighting this terrible epidemic hard — Nick will not have died in vain!”

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