Trump Misses the Mark With Opioid Crisis Plan, Health Advocates Say

Personal Health

The White House plan to address the opioid crisis runs counter to the Trump administration’s health and justice policies, said politicians and advocates.

The administration on Wednesday announced it was launching a commission to study the crisis, which sees 91 Americans die each day from an opioid overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Opioid abuse has become a crippling problem throughout the United States,” Donald Trump said on Wednesday. “And I think it’s almost untalked about compared to the severity that we’re witnessing”.

Yet, the “almost untalked about” issue – addiction to prescription painkillers, heroin, and other opioids – has for years been at the forefront of federal health agency concerns. Congress has presented an unusually united front in its commitment to responding to the crisis, adopting federal policies that mirror legislation in states across the political spectrum. And Trump’s centerpiece plan to convene a commission that develops recommendations on the drug crisis is viewed by many as redundant.

In November 2016, the surgeon general’s office published a nonpartisan report to outline solutions and recommendations.

“I don’t know that there is a lot of enthusiasm for a new commission report because that seems to presuppose that we don’t actually know what needs to be done,” said Daniel Raymond, policy director at the Harm Reduction Coalition, a drug policy advocacy group.

In fact, Raymond says the White House’s existing health and justice policies contradict pre-existing policy recommendations. Progress is threatened, advocates say, by White House efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and the justice department’s stance toward drug policy.

“I don’t know how you square the circle by saying ‘we care about the opioid crisis’, then cut budgets, cut access to healthcare and beef up law enforcement strategies rather than providing services and support,” said Raymond.

The question, Raymond said, is will the report be disconnected from the administration’s other policies? Or is it going to help align agencies in their response to the crisis?

The White House budget proposals for 2016 and 2017 cut funding to key agencies in the fight to combat the opioid crisis including the National Institutes of Health, which researches solutions for the crisis, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (Samsha), which awards grants to help communities respond to the crisis, and the CDC, which tracks data on opioid use and abuse.

Attorney general Jeff Sessions, the chief law enforcement officer of the US, has advocated for drug policies that echo the “war on drugs”, which was discredited by science and deemed counterproductive by the Obama administration.

“There is a massive gulf between President Trump’s promises to tackle this crisis and the policies this administration has proposed during his first two months in office,” senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, said in a statement.

“I’d take President Trump’s proposed efforts on opioids more seriously if he hadn’t spent the last two months trying to derail the historic steps forward on substance abuse treatment through the Affordable Care Act – and if his budget didn’t also include a 20% cut to mental health services, which are so important in the fight against this epidemic,” senator Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, said in a statement.

Amid these concerns, advocates said they were at least somewhat encouraged that the White House signaled the opioid crisis is a priority by creating the commission at all.

And the appointment of Chris Christie was welcomed, because the New Jersey governor has been on the frontlines fighting the state’s addiction crisis, while other White House leadership positions have been filled with people who have no government experience.

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