Add to President Donald Trump’s long list of lies his promise on the campaign trail and in a high profile message in October declaring the opioid epidemic that cost over 65,000 American lives just in 2016 a national emergency and a major priority for his administration.
Instead of boosting the White House office charged with addressing a problem that costs more American lives each year than auto accidents, guns or HIV/AIDs, Trump wants to gut the Office of National Drug Control Policy, reducing its annual budget by $340 million, or 95 percent, and farming out its major grant-making to other agencies.
Kevin Sabet, who worked in that office under President’s Clinton, Bush and Obama, told Politico that moving the grants out of ONDCP “reduces the prominence of these programs and puts them in the bowels of agencies that have different priorities. These programs can kind of get lost.”
Being in the White House, adds Sabet, “elevates the importance of these programs…It’s a program that has the White House’s signature on it and that’s important for states and localities. No other program can show a seal with the White House on it.”
Early in his administration, to show his intent to address this growing national crisis, Trump appointed a blue ribbon commission to study the problem and make recommendations.
Opioid overdose deaths increased by 28%, but they're suggesting cutting funds by 95%?!
Don't they realize there's an #OpioidCrisis?!
We need MORE resources to fight this epidemic, not less. We're losing loved ones to the disease of addiction!https://t.co/zkHLlxhuHO
— Donald Norcross (@DonaldNorcross) January 19, 2018
Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who was a member of Trump’s opioid advisory commission, said this latest move goes against the panel’s recommendations, which called on the president to fortify the ONDCP, and said the grants to be taken away are crucial to overall response efforts, reports Politico.
“It guts the two main purposes of ONDCP,” said Kennedy. “It really undermines the mission.”
One of the things the White House funding is used for is to track fentanyl, one of the deadliest opioids, and then seize illegal or improper shipments from sellers who are abusing their authority and making the drugs widely available.
By moving the grants to other agencies, there will be months of bureaucratic delays, warns Andrew Kessler, head of SlingShot Solutions, a consulting firm that deals with behavioral health policy
“It does not make practical sense,” Kessler told Politico. “Imagine taking the responsibility of emergency response away from the CDC in the middle of the Ebola emergency. It would never happen.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are already looking to reverse Trump’s moves.
Senator Shelly Moore Capito, a Republican from West Virginia – one of the states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic – said as head of the subcommittee that has oversight of ONDCP she would “resist the move,” adding that the grants need to be at ONDCP “within the executive branch and under the president’s purview.”
Another Republican, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, has also pledged to fight the cuts.
A major crisis is costing 251,000 lives every year, more than respiratory disease, accidents, stroke and Alzheimer's. We MUST take immediate action to save lives. The cause is medical errors so obviously we must stop treating illness to protect people. #opioidcrisis
— Chronic Pain (@chronicpainwar) January 18, 2018
Trump seems to have little real understanding of the nature of the crisis in any case. When he spoke about it, it was just political posturing.
The president seems to think opioids are just another illegal drug that has to be fought with tougher drug laws, by throwing more people into crowded prisons for non-violent crimes and by giving the main authority to the Justice Department.
Most opioids are prescribed and often over-prescribed by licensed physicians, dentists and other medical professionals who since the 1990s have responded to people’s complaints about pain by prescribing more and more opioids, many of which have proven to be stubbornly addictive.
Once people are hooked, if doctors try to cut back, the victims of the epidemic do often turn to drug traffickers who offer them stronger alternatives that are even more addictive.
Some of those traffickers are licensed drug stores that make huge profits by ordering and selling many more opioids than they need for legitimate purposes and then pushing them out the back door to patients or traffickers.
It is a problem that also needs to be addressed with manufacturers and importers – including major public companies with big reputations – who have made billions off this epidemic, pushing drugs in quantities that they know go far beyond what would be required for legitimate uses.
The Center for Disease Control reported that in 2015, according to the Independent, “There were enough pills prescribed to medicate every single American around the clock for three weeks.”
The solution may be in a small way to have better enforcement, but the main issue is working with physicians to limit how opioids are prescribed, with drug stores to increase control and to increase the number of programs that inform and educate the public about the dangers and the ways to prevent the crisis from destroying their families.
'Addictions are harder to kick when you're poor. Here's why' https://t.co/U44XzXxbWe "Our response to today’s #opioidcrisis cannot be effective if it ignores the socioeconomic aspects of the problem."
— Travis Lupick (@tlupick) January 19, 2018
There are treatments for opioid addiction but to date, there has been shockingly little effort to get those treatments to the people who need it The U.S. Surgeon General reported in 2010 only about 10 percent of those with an opioid addiction was getting any meaningful treatment.
“That low treatment rate is the result of a variety of factors,” reported The Independent in October. “For some in, especially, poor and rural areas of the country there simply aren’t facilities equipped to treat complex drug addiction issues.”
“For others,” continued The Independent, “access may not be a problem, but access to funds or insurance to treat their addiction can be a major barrier in the country.”
Of course, that would require real leadership and not just cheap talk from a president with a short attention span, who has failed to even hire a new Drug Czar to lead the public and political campaigns that are badly needed.
Trump did pick a nominee for the job back in the fall, but after a report on the CBS TV show “60 Minutes” showed that the former Congressman, Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, had been one of those pushing legislation that would have effectively prevented federal agents from stopping the spread of addictive opioid drugs, his nomination was withdrawn.
Trump has yet to put forward another nominee.
— APHA (@PublicHealth) January 19, 2018
Trump only cares about the opioid problem with he thinks it can get him votes or attention, when he is posturing for the cameras or when his campaign donors want action, but in reality he is more interested in whether football players take a knee in NFL games than he is in an epidemic that is killing a huge number of people, many of them in areas where he won the vote in 2016.
Trump loves to talk about fake news, but the real fake news is that he cares about this crisis or plans to really do anything about it.