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Trump declares opioids a public health emergency

President Donald Trump speaks during an event to

President Donald Trump speaks during an event to declare the opioid crisis a nationwide public health emergency in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017, in Washington. Credit: AP

President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a public-health emergency Thursday, a designation that will expand access to medical services but won’t bring any more federal dollars to fight addiction.

Trump, a Republican, said it was “time to liberate our communities from this scourge.” He promised to waive regulations to expand access at certain treatment centers, give states more flexibility on how to use federal block grants and expand advertising and education campaigns to discourage young people from even beginning to use alcohol or drugs (an echo of the Reagan administration’s “Just Say No” campaign).

But he stopped short of declaring the opioid crisis a “national emergency,” as he had promised in August. That more sweeping categorization would have unlocked more federal dollars. Nor did Trump promise more money for treatment or workforce development in the treatment field. Addiction counselors said an emergency declaration without federal dollars to follow would be of limited use and that “just say no” strategies haven’t worked in the past.

Both Nassau and Suffolk counties have been marred by the effects of the opioid epidemic, with hundreds of victims setting new fatality records each passing year. County officials have doled out the life-saving drug naloxone, which is designed to reverse the overdose effects, and educated residents on the horrors of addiction.

The White House had told reporters this week that a public health emergency was a more appropriate designation for a long-term fight against addiction. The declaration expands doctors’ ability to write “tele-prescriptions” for patients in remote areas and accelerates the hiring process for individuals working on opioid addiction issues.

“It’s time to liberate our communities from this scourge,” Trump said at the White House. “I want the American people to know the government is fighting the opioid epidemic on all fronts . . . It may take years and even decades.”

More than 140 Americans die daily from opioid overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s a number that has skyrocketed in the last two decades.

“Opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled since 1999 and now account for the majority of fatal drug overdoses. Who would have thought?” Trump said.

In his speech, Trump talked about his brother’s alcoholism. Fred Trump, he said, helped him by admonishing him to “never drink.” Fred Trump died in 1981 at the age of 43.

“I had someone to guide me,” Trump said. “He had a very, very tough life because of alcohol. But I learned a lot because of Fred.”

He said he hoped a massive advertising campaign would have a similar impact.

“If we can teach young people, and people generally, not to start, it’s really, really easy not to take ’em,” Trump said.

Some lawmakers and experts in the addiction field, however, said the president had to offer more than words.

“The opioid crisis is a public health emergency that won’t be solved by a ‘Just Say No’-style campaign,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said. “While I am glad the president has focused on this challenge, his plan needs to go much further to be effective. To win this fight, there needs to be significant resources and the political will to take on the pharmaceutical industry and end the overprescription of highly addictive opioids for acute pain after routine procedures.”

“The numbers are growing by the day and instead of recycling ‘just say no’ platitudes from the past, this president should be leading a national effort at whatever cost necessary to prevent and treat substance use disorders,” said Jeffrey Reynolds, president and CEO of the Children and Families Association, a Mineola-based treatment organization.

“The fact that the president of the United States is talking about the crisis is important. It sets the stage,” said John Coppola, executive director of the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Providers of New York State. “What we need from the president is to hear: I will double the commitment of block grants across the states” and increase incentives to recruit people to the addiction-treatment workforce.

Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor whom Trump appointed to head an opioid commission, promised a comprehensive plan would be offered next week to deal with the crisis.

Trump administration officials said they would urge Congress, during end-of-the-year budget negotiations, to add new cash to a public health emergency fund that Congress hasn’t replenished for years. The Public Health Emergency Fund currently contains just $57,000, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

With wire services

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