President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in October, promising to “liberate” Americans from the epidemic which has caused tens of thousands of deaths. The emergency designation was set to last 90 days, and is now due to expire on January 23. Virtually nothing has been accomplished since Trump’s announcement.
No new money or resources have been allocated to address the opioid crisis in the past three months. Critical public health positions remain vacant, including the Health and Human Services secretary and the director of the Office of Drug Control Policy, which the White House considered eliminating altogether last spring.
And the “really tough, really big, really great” advertising campaign that Trump proposed for the purpose of spreading awareness about addiction has not materialized.
Meanwhile, life expectancy in the US has dropped for the first time in decades as a direct result of deaths from opioid overdose. Public health experts agree that to adequately address the crisis, billions of dollars will be required over the next several years.
In 2017, the federal government allocated about $1 billion to the opioid epidemic, half of which was authorized by Congress under President Obama.
But the Public Health Emergency Fund, which became available to HHS after Trump’s October declaration, has only $57,000 in it. And the Trump regime has made no proposal to replenish that account.
“The declaration conveyed to the public that something was being done, when nothing is actually being done,” said former Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, a longtime advocate for addiction treatment who served on Trump’s opioid advisory commission.
More perplexing still is the fact that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has, in recent weeks, launched a war on marijuana that undermines existing state laws at a time when a majority of the country approves of legalizing recreational pot.
Additionally, numerous studies suggest that marijuana may be an effective alternative to opioid use for chronic pain, and that legalizing weed is correlated to an overall reduction in opioid deaths.
But corporate lobbyists are working all the time crafting beneficial legislation behind the curtain. The connections between the pharmaceutical lobby and the opioid crisis are firmly established. And though it’s impossible to know the degree to which these powerful actors are curtailing the federal opioid crisis response, we can be sure that doing so is in their financial interest.