Trump vows to 'win' opioid crisis fight, doesn't declare emergency

By Ed Adamczyk and Danielle Haynes  |  Updated Aug. 8, 2017 at 7:25 PM
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Aug. 8 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump vowed to "win" the fight against opioid abuse Tuesday, though declined to declare a national emergency as his commission on the crisis recommended.

Health and administration officials met with Trump at his private golf club in Bedminster, N.J., to update him on the crisis.

Early in his administration, Trump appointed a commission to suggest ways to combat and treat the opioid epidemic. Led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the panel urged him to "declare a national emergency under either the Public Health Service Act or the Stafford Act."

"Your declaration would empower your cabinet to take bold steps and would force Congress to focus on funding and empowering the executive branch even further to deal with this loss of life."

Trump said he's not ready to do that yet, and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price told reporters that national emergencies are usually used in a "time-limited problem" like the Zika virus outbreak.

Instead, Trump said he wanted to focus on keeping people from becoming addicted in the first place.

"If they don't start, they won't have a problem. If they do start, it's awfully tough to get off," Trump told reporters. "So if we can keep them from going on -- and maybe by talking to youth and telling them: 'No good, really bad for you in every way.' But if they don't start, it will never be a problem.

"I'm confident that by working with our health care and law enforcement experts, we will fight this deadly epidemic and the United States will win," he added.

At Tuesday's press briefing, Trump announced no new policies in his plan to tackle the epidemic.

During his presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly spoke about opioid addiction and its impact in the United States -- particularly in rural, lower-income and working-class areas.

Statistics show the percentage of people in the United States dying of drug overdoses has effectively quadrupled since 1999, and drug overdoses now rank as the leading cause of death for Americans under 50.

A recent report in August's American Journal of Preventive Medicine suggests that heroin and opioid deaths in the United States have been under-reported. There were 36,450 fatal overdoses nationwide in 2008 and 47,055 in 2014, but half of the deaths reported unspecified drugs and in one-fifth to one-quarter, it was the only drug-related designation included. The study found that the corrected mortality rates were 24 percent higher for opioids and 22 percent higher for heroin, nationally.

It has also been suggested that major pharmaceutical companies are keeping the price of antidotes and addiction treatments artificially high.

The anti-addition drug Suboxone, for example, costs over $500 retail for a 30-day supply.

"Lack of access to addiction treatment drugs like Suboxone can be traced, in part, to the soaring prices, access problems and anti-competitive conduct that has become business as usual in the pharmaceutical industry across the board," researcher Robin Feldman of the University of California Hastings wrote.

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