Try as the Trump administration might, there really is no good way to spin the president’s plan to fight the nation’s out-of-control opioid epidemic with a shoestring budget for treatment, a multibillion-dollar border wall and a redux of the “Just Say No” campaign.
What public health officials in California and across the country wanted Donald Trump to do was declare a “national state of emergency.” That designation would’ve treated the epidemic with the urgency of a hurricane – well, a hurricane in Texas, not Puerto Rico – giving states immediate access to dollars from the federal Disaster Relief Fund.
Instead, Trump announced that he would declare the epidemic a “public health emergency.” States will soon be able access grant money and federal agencies will be told to use what resources they have to slow the number of overdose deaths. The Trump administration also vowed to pursue funding through Congress in a year-end spending package.
Basically, we can expect a public health response similar to 2009, during the H1N1 influenza pandemic. That virus, we should note, killed a total of 12,469 people – a mere fraction of the more than 59,000 people who died from opioids in just 2016.
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Trump insisted on Thursday that his administration is “fighting the opioid epidemic on all fronts.” But the truth is he offered up a halfhearted solution with full-throated political fanfare. The result is certain to be hundreds of thousands of Americans, many of whom, because of overprescribing, got addicted to opioids, waiting in vain for treatment. Many more may die of overdoses, especially if Trump and his fellow Republicans succeed in undermining Obamacare.
By some estimates, more than 100 Americans already die every day from prescription painkillers, heroin or, increasingly, the powerful opioid fentanyl. That’s more Americans than die from car crashes and gun violence each day.
While it’s true that the scourge of opioid addiction has hit states on the other side of the country the hardest, including New Hampshire, West Virginia, Ohio and New Jersey, California has hardly been spared.
In the Central Valley, dominated by rural poverty, the number of people hooked on painkillers has continued to climb in recent years, as have the number of infants born with drugs in their system.
Statewide, the death toll continues to hover around 2,000, but with a concentration in districts held by Republicans, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Reps. Tom McClintock, Doug LaMalfa, Jeff Denham, David Valadao and Devin Nunes. Voters in their districts also rely heavily on Medicaid, expanded under Obamacare, to be able to afford substance abuse therapy and anti-addiction pills.
The same can be said of other states, where opioid-addicted Trump voters are the ones suffering most. The president is letting down the very Americans who put him in office.
And yet, Republicans in Congress haven’t complained about Trump’s decision. McCarthy called it “bold national leadership.” Republicans also don’t seem worried that the Trump administration lacks a secretary of Health and Human Services and a chief of the Office of National Drug Control Policy to implement the public health emergency.
Trump insisted at the White House that “we can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic.” Not like this, we can’t.