Has The Trump Administration Stalled On Efforts To Address The Opioid Crisis?

By Paul Fuhr 09/13/17

It's been a month since Trump declared a national state of emergency over the crisis and its unclear if any progress has been made since then.

Donald Trump

Since Election Day, many Americans have found themselves constantly sorting out the bluster from the business of the Trump Administration. It’s been difficult to determine what the president is taking action on versus what he’s simply talking about.

According to the New York Times, the same is true about the nation’s opioid crisis. In early August, Trump finally announced that the opioid problem was a “national emergency,” which falls in line with what the CDC has long considered an epidemic. Still, no one seems quite sure what steps are being taken.

The announcement marked an about-face for the administration, which had contended that public health emergencies were generally “time-limited” in nature. It took the president’s own Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis to issue a report that spurred action.

“With approximately 142 Americans dying every day, America is enduring a death toll equal to September 11th every three weeks,” the report said. 

And yet, it’s unclear what specific actions have occurred in the wake of the president’s national emergency declaration on August 10. The New York Times believes that the reality of the opioid problem, like many other issues plaguing the nation, is much more complex than what the administration anticipated.

“As with many of his campaign promises, Mr. Trump is discovering the realities of limited government resources, slow-moving agencies and the competing agendas of cabinet members, even as they try to push in the same general direction,” the article said. “The hurricanes that have struck Texas and Florida, and the costly recovery that will follow, appear to have complicated the process.”

The opioid commission, headed by Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, made several key recommendations in its report. “Easier said than done” seems to be the collective response to the report, which detailed (at a very high level) all the steps necessary to get the U.S. out of the opioid crisis’ shadow. One suggestion was to promote and support the ability of states to share their prescription drug databases with one another.

People who report overdoses should be protected from the law, too, the report said. Perhaps even more dramatically, law enforcement officers would be required to carry Narcan, the emergency drug that reverses the effects of opioid medication or heroin. Other suggestions included Medicaid-funded drug treatment, as well as mandatory education about opioid prescription in medical and dental schools. 

“The president is said to be aware that there are not enough treatment options available, that opioids are being overprescribed by doctors and that there needs to be a greater effort toward deterring people from using drugs in the first place,” the Times article continued. With no state untouched by the crisis, the need to take immediate action is undeniable. That said, it’s more complicated than simply pulling a trigger on, say, two or three of the Commission’s proposals—especially in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

With many estimating that the hurricanes will cost the U.S. almost $200 billion in damages, there’s a possibility there might be very little funding left to spare. A national emergency may free up federal funding through disaster relief, but given that disaster-relief funds have “Harvey” and “Irma” written on them, it becomes a question of what’s more important to the nation at the moment.

“It’s going to require however many dollars are necessary to meet the demand, however we ultimately assess that demand,” former congressman Patrick J. Kennedy echoed in the Times piece.

No matter what devastation the hurricanes leave behind, though, it won’t come close to the wreckage the opioid crisis has already wrought. 

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Paul Fuhr lives in Columbus, Ohio with his family and two cats, Vesper and Dr. No. He's written for AfterParty MagazineThe Literary Review and The Live Oak Review, among others. He's also the host of "Drop the Needle," a podcast about music and addiction recovery. More at paulfuhr.com. You can also find Paul on Linkedin and Twitter.