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View from Washington: More action on opioids


The opioid crisis is getting a lot of attention at the highest levels of the U.S. government — but it still may not be enough to stop the epidemic.

President Donald Trump issued a memorandum on Oct. 26 stating it will be “the policy of the United States to use all lawful means to combat the drug demand and opioid crisis currently afflicting our country.”

In 2016, 64,000 Americans died of drug overdoses, primarily from opioids, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meaning overdoses now kill more Americans than motor vehicle crashes or gun-related incidents. Since 2000, more than 300,000 Americans have died from overdoses involving opioids.

And it’s not just the death toll, although that certainly should be the main concern. About $55 billion in health and social costs are related to prescription opioid abuse each year while another $20 billion is spent in emergency department and inpatient care for opioid poisonings, according to the CDC.

I’m heartened that President Trump understands the severity of the epidemic. He has spoken directly about it, telling personal anecdotes of friends struggling with addiction. He has declared the drug demand and opioid crisis a public health emergency, which will mobilize the considerable resources of the federal government to attack the problem, including cutting red tape to more quickly allow addiction specialists to come to the aid of the addicted. And he noted that it’s a problem that may take decades to solve.

Still, government officials on the front lines don’t think the Trump administration has gone far enough. The National Association of County and City Health Officials, representing nearly 3,000 local health departments, said the “declaration of an opioid public health emergency and not a state of national emergency does not go far enough” because it only lasts 90 days and does not provide additional federal funds. The association encouraged the president to make the national emergency declaration, which would facilitate more federal dollars to local health departments.

Every day, 91 Americans die from opioid overdoses, according to the CDC. That death rate should alarm all of us, including those in Washington who are in a position to do something about it. The Trump administration and the U.S. Congress must act quickly to give these local officials the tools and freedom they need to fight the crisis.

As of August, 31 bills had been introduced in Congress to address the opioid epidemic, according to an analysis by law firm Squire Patton Boggs. Some bills would increase funding to proactively combat the crisis, including providing grants to train health care practitioners in best practices in pain management and substance abuse recognition.

Others would tackle the current flood of addicted patients to treatment centers and substance abuse programs by paying for increased clinical services.

While it is highly unlikely all these bills would pass, given everything else Congress is working on, surely some of them have enough bipartisan support to get them to the president’s desk.

Many people, including the president, understand opioid addiction is a significant problem for our country. Let’s not let politics get in the way of a solution.

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