President Donald J. Trump (R), New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (C) and senior advisor to the president Jared Kushner attend an opioid and drug abuse listening session in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on March 29. On Thursday, Trump heeded the advise of his commission on opioid abuse -- led by Christie -- to declare a national emergency over the crisis. File Pool Photo by Shawn Thew/UPI | License Photo
Aug. 10 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump on Thursday said opioid addiction "is a serious problem the likes of which we have never had" and declared a national emergency over the crisis.
Speaking to reporters at his private golf club in Bedminster, N.J., the president backpedaled on his decision earlier in the week not to declare an emergency.
"The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I'm saying officially right now it is an emergency. It's a national emergency. We're going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis," he said.
The declaration would allow the federal government to direct funds toward combatting abuse by expanding treatment facilities and making the antidote naloxone more readily available.
Trump met with health and administration officials Tuesday to receive an update on the crisis. He vowed to "win" in the fight against opioid abuse, but declined to declare a national emergency as his commission on the crisis recommended.
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 wasn't ready to do that Tuesday, but when asked about it by reporters Thursday, Trump said his administration was "drawing documents now" to declare the emergency.
"We're going to draw it up and we're going to make it a national emergency. It is a serious problem the likes of which we have never had," he said. "You know when I was growing up they had the LSD and they had certain generations of drugs. There's never been anything like what's happened to this country over the last four or five years."
On Tuesday, 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.
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 nationwide mortality rates were 24 percent higher for opioids and 22 percent higher for heroin.
It has also been suggested that major pharmaceutical companies are keeping the price of antidotes and addiction treatments artificially high.
The anti-addiction 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.
Ed Adamczyk contributed to this report.