Trump urged to declare national emergency over US opioid epidemic
Report by commission led by Chris Christie lays out stark depiction of addiction crisis and calls for bold action to combat harmful effects
President Trump is being urged to declare a federal state of emergency to address the epidemic of opioid overdoses that is claiming as many American lives as the terrorist attacks on 9/11 every three weeks.
The call for dramatic measures to be taken comes from the commission looking into the opioid crisis that Trump set up by executive order in March. The panel is led by Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey.
In a 10-page report of their initial findings, the commission lays out a profoundly stark depiction of the catastrophe caused by the proliferation of opioid drugs in all 50 states. Drawing on figures from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) it parses the human tragedy in a number of startling ways:
- every day 142 Americans die of a drug overdose;
- though the overall amount of pain that Americans are coping has remained roughly steady, the quantity of opioid prescriptions from medical doctors has quadrupled since 1999;
- between that year and 2015, 560,000 people have died from drug overdoses more than the entire population of Atlanta, Georgia;
- drug overdoses now kill more people than car crashes and gun homicides combined.
Christie and his team of commissioners argue that a state of emergency would empower the Trump administration to take the bold steps needed to combat the crisis of overdoses, as well as force Congress to take the matter seriously.
It would also awaken every American to this simple fact: if this scourge has not found you or your family yet, without bold action by everyone, it soon will, the report says.
Armed with the state of emergency decree, the US government could then move swiftly to expand the number of in-patient treatment places available to people struggling with addiction. The commission calls for states to be allowed to grant waivers to existing Medicaid exclusions that currently put the burden of caring for people with substance abuse problems wholly on to state budgets.
The first report of the commission was released on Monday having been delayed since June. The panel said the holdup was due to enormous public response to the consultation, but Democratic Congress members have been intensifying pressure on Christie in recent days accusing the commission and the Trump administration of dragging their feet amid a national disaster.
The report reserves some of its toughest language for medical doctors who are prescribing pharmaceutical painkillers at record levels, pointing out that four out of every five new heroin users start their habit on prescription pills. Mr President, this crisis began in our nations healthcare system, it says.
But it says much of the problem is down to lack of education and understanding among doctors and dentists. The commission proposes that the CDC should be instructed to produce a new set of training standards for clinicians setting out detailed guidelines on safe dispensing of drugs and best doses.
It also wants to see naxalone, the medication that can block the effects opioids and prevent overdoses, to be issued under federal mandate to all law enforcement officers in the country.