Hollow gesture on opioids

Without allocating new federal monies, Trump has predetermined America’s drug crisis will continue

Ask any American with a loved one who has struggled with opioid addiction and you’ll likely hear a plea for help for an epidemic that tears apart families, and in too many instances, ends lives. To wit, according to federal data, more than 60,000 U.S. citizens succumbed to narcotic drug overdoses in 2016. That’s an average of 175 Americans per day, making it the leading cause of death in the nation for those younger than 50.

In response to those startling figures, the Trump administration, through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recently addressed the issue by declaring it a public health emergency. Trump’s older brother died at age 43 of complications brought on by alcoholism, so he is familiar with the repercussions of addiction. During a ceremony at the White House, POTUS spoke to how opioid abuse plagues the young and old, rich and poor.

But here’s the thing: The declaration rings hollow, because it does not trigger any additional federal funding to combat the crisis.

Indeed, as reported in this week’s Healthlines (see “An uphill battle,” by Evan Tuchinsky), just $57,000 resides in a public health emergency fund. That’s despite the president’s promise months ago to do something about the issue—namely, to label the nation’s opioid crisis “a national emergency.” Doing so by signing a formal declaration is precisely the type of action that would justify the allocation of federal resources needed to substantively mitigate the epidemic.

The president’s inaction is especially cold comfort to residents of the North State, including Butte County, where, as Tuchinsky reports on page 12, the populace grapples with a prescription rate nearly triple of that found at the national level. Moreover, there are fewer options here for those seeking treatment. While the medical professionals at the local Public Health Department are conducting yeoman’s work to address the issue, only a commitment of a significant amount of new federal monies can pay for desperately needed addiction treatment and recovery programs, among other things.

Short of that, the epidemic will continue unabated.