President Trump on Thursday declared a “public health emergency” in response to the US’s escalating opioid epidemic that is affecting millions of Americans.
Speaking from the White House, Trump cited an unnamed “truly evil” drug that will be removed from the market.
“The FDA… has requested that one especially high-risk opioid be withdrawn from the market immediately,” Trump said, adding that White House would be “requiring that a specific opioid, which is truly evil, be taken off the market immediately.”
But the president’s announcement may be more symbolic, as he offered no plan to assign money for state’s proposed measures, sparking swift criticism of the lack of new funds to deal with an epidemic that claims 100 lives or more a day.
Earlier this week a Drug Enforcement Administration report said that prescription drugs, mostly opioid painkillers, have been the single largest cause of overdose deaths since 2001, but the rising use of heroin and the synthetic opioid fentanyl has driven the cost in lives to new heights.
But the nature of the declaration has raised further questions about the seriousness of that commitment.
State governments have been pressing for federal money to fund long-term treatment programmes to help the estimated two million Americans in need of help to shake drug dependency.
Instead, the president is ordering a health emergency under legislation which allows the administration to “reorient resources” but will delay new money until Congress allocates it.
Attorney general Jeff Sessions did not bolster confidence in the administration’s strategy with comments ahead of the president’s announcement that the first step to combatting the epidemic should be for people to “say no” to drugs – advice similar to then first lady Nancy Reagan’s campaign against crack in the 1980s.
“We’ve got to re-establish first the view that you should say no,” Sessions said. “People should say no to drug use. They have got to protect themselves first.”
He argues that drug addiction “starts with marijuana”. However, the epidemic started with the mass prescribing of high-dosage opioid painkillers.