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Trump on Opioids: Time to Get Tough

This past week President Trump held a high level opioid summit at the White House, where promises were made to tackle this growing crisis nationally. It was an event highlighted by Trump's statement that drug dealers should face the death penalty.

“They kill hundreds and hundreds of people, and most of them don’t even go to jail. If you shoot one person they give you life. They give you the death penalty," Trump said. "These people can kill 2,000, 3,000 people and nothing happens to them. And we need strength with respect to the pushers and the drug dealers. And if we don’t do that, you will never solve the problem.”

Fine and dandy that we get tough on drug pushers, who could be against that? But shouldn't the federal government actually do something concrete to deal with the opioid crisis so people don't die?

Here are some of the key outcomes from that summit. Sounds like more BS than anything.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said HHS sees opioid addiction as a “medical challenge, not a moral failure.” HHS, he said, will provide states with waivers from federal regulations if they felt they were impeding efforts to provide addiction recovery and treatment. Seems like the Trump administration's solution to everything is to get rid of federal regulations rather than developing positive initiatives with adequate financial support.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin said that since 2012 VA hospitals have reduced the use of opioids by 40 percent and the number of new opioid prescriptions have been cut by 90 percent. That's probably a positive move. But what is the VA actually doing to help veterans who are suffering from opioid addiction?

Trump said he has discussed with Attorney General Jeff Sessions the idea of bringing a lawsuit against “some of these opioid companies” that presumably are flooding the market with the habit-forming painkillers. As we all know, Trump loves lawsuits.

“You have people that go to the hospital with a broken arm, and they come out and they’re addicted,” he said.

Trump’s federal budget for 2019, which would make massive cuts in Medicaid and other healthcare and social services, would provide new funding to combat the opioid crisis. Whether Congress includes that provision, ultimately, remains to be seen. But other cuts in healthcare programs proposed by Trump would be counter productive.

And, finally, Trump has nominated a new drug czar to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). Many lawmakers have criticized the White House for scaling back ONDCP’s role in coordinating the administration’s response to the opioid crisis, and for taking so long to nominate a new director. For a time, the person in charge of the U.S. fight against drugs was a 24-year-old kid with no experience.

The problem is too serious for to be ignored in that way. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Opioids—prescription and illicit—are the main driver of drug overdose deaths. Opioids were involved in 42,249 deaths in 2016, and opioid overdose deaths were five times higher in 2016 than 1999.

In 2016, the five states with the highest rates of death due to drug overdose were West Virginia (52.0 per 100,000), Ohio (39.1 per 100,000), New Hampshire (39.0 per 100,000), Pennsylvania (37.9 per 100,000) and (Kentucky (33.5 per 100,000).

Significant increases in drug overdose death rates from 2015 to 2016 were seen in the Northeast, Midwest and South Census Regions. States with statistically significant increases in drug overdose death rates included Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

In response to the opioid crisis, HHS is focusing its efforts on five major priorities: Better addiction prevention, treatment and recovery services, better targeting of overdose reversing drugs, better data, better pain management, better research

Will that be enough to turn around this deadly epidemic?

Sadly, there was a lot of talk, a lot of posturing, but apparently nothing concrete that came out of the White House opioid summit. We need more than talk if we are ever going to solve this problem.

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