The Record (Hackensack, N.J.) (TNS)
President Donald Trump declared the opioid abuse crisis a national public health emergency. He was joined by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who chairs the president’s commission on opioid abuse.
The governor has pushed hard for Trump to raise a national flag in the war against abuse. This was a partial victory.
“No part of our society — not young or old, rich or poor, urban or rural — has been spared this horrible plague,” Trump said. The president is correct. The declaration gives states latitude in fighting this “plague.” States will have more flexibility in how they use federal funds, and in rural areas, they can use telemedicine to prescribe treatment. All of this is good.
But there is a big “but” as well. The president has not suggested a funding source. He leaves that up to Congress and that is not likely to be a fast route. The appropriations committees of the House and the Senate have had no conversations with the White House on funding and that should have occurred before the announcement. Not much happens without funding.
The opioid crisis cannot be contained without a substantial federal commitment and the Republican Congress has given no signs of increasing spending on this public health emergency to the level needed. And the crisis cannot be addressed by pulling money from other equally important needs — like the federal Disaster Relief Fund or taking money, for example, from HIV prevention and treatment programs.
Whether this was the first salvo in a real fight against opioid abuse or an elaborate press event will depend on how much political capital Trump puts into finding funding.
Christie said getting naloxone — an overdose antidote — to every first responder in the nation is essential. “That will bend the curve back in terms of lost lives.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since 1999, prescription opioid drug deaths have quadrupled. Every day, more than 1,000 people are treated in emergency rooms for not using opioids as directed. More than 100 people die each day because of the opioid crisis.
The president said: “As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue. It is time to liberate our communities from the scourge of drug addiction. We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic. We can do it.”
We agree with the president — we can do it. But it is not just about getting naloxone to first responders because that just gives an addict a second chance without addressing his or her addiction issue. What is also needed is attention on the source of the drugs — from the prescription painkillers that are often the gateway to abuse to the drug bazaars of cities that sell cheap heroin.
The president spoke of his late brother’s alcohol addiction as his primer to the dangers of substance abuse. Christie often speaks of a law school friend who died because of drug addiction. Both are compelling narratives. But this is not just a suburban problem. It is a street problem and it requires an attack from all angles.
The president took an important step. But without the federal government’s substantial financial commitment, the fight will not go further. Show us the money.