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Trump to Keep Fighting Opioids         04/25 06:22

   President Donald Trump pledged on Wednesday to battle the deadly epidemic of 
opioid drug abuse "until our job is done," and he claimed progress even though 
it is unclear whether the crisis has diminished.

   ATLANTA (AP) -- President Donald Trump pledged on Wednesday to battle the 
deadly epidemic of opioid drug abuse "until our job is done," and he claimed 
progress even though it is unclear whether the crisis has diminished.

   Trump spoke at an annual conference of health, law enforcement, elected and 
other officials who work to combat drug abuse and addiction, and used the 
appearance to advocate for the wall he wants to build on the U.S.-Mexico 
border, saying without evidence that it will help keep drugs out of the U.S. 
His wife, Melania, introduced him.

   "My administration is deploying every resource at our disposal to empower 
you, to support you and to fight right by your side," Trump said. "We will not 
solve this epidemic overnight but we will stop. ... There's just nothing going 
to stop us, no matter how you cut it."

   Before leaving the White House for the Atlanta event, Trump claimed credit 
for progress in combating the drug scourge.

   "It's a big problem. It's a big addiction and we're handling it," the 
president told reporters. He said doctors, laboratories, clinics and drug 
companies have assisted the administration.

   There have been signs of progress, including a drop in the number of 
prescriptions for opioid painkillers. However, opioid abuse claimed a record of 
nearly 48,000 American lives in 2017. An estimated 2 million people are 
addicted to the drugs, which include both legal prescription pain medications 
and illegal drugs such as heroin.

   While prescription opioids initially accounted for most deaths, the epidemic 
is now driven by illicit heroin and fentanyl. Those two drugs were implicated 
in the vast majority of opioid overdoses reported in 2017, according to federal 
figures.

   Keith Humphreys, a drug policy adviser to presidents from both political 
parties, said some states and communities are making headway, but not because 
of action by Trump. Humphreys said other states have regressed.

   Humphreys said Trump's declaration of opioids addiction as a public health 
emergency in 2017 failed to translate into significant concrete action. Members 
of Congress, he said, "figured out they were going to have to do it themselves 
--- and they did."

   Trump said the administration has committed $6 billion to combat the crisis, 
set aside money to prevent youth substance abuse, and increased the 
distribution of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone.

   "Pretty amazing stuff," the president remarked. 

   Efforts to curb opioid use are being undertaken by an array of government 
agencies. Trump said states are now allowed to use Medicaid dollars to pay for 
residential treatment facilities, expanding access to care. He said the 
Department of Veterans Affairs has greatly reduced the number of veterans being 
treated with opioids.

   Trump also discussed law enforcement efforts, including shutting down online 
criminal drug-selling networks and more aggressive efforts to seize illegal 
drugs and stop immigrants from entering the country without authorization.

   He said that almost 400 miles of wall will be in place along the border with 
Mexico by the end of 2020 and that it "will have a tremendous impact on drugs 
coming into our country."

   Trump's statement contradicts a 2018 report by the U.S. Drug Enforcement 
Administration that cites common drug smuggling methods that would not be 
choked off by a border wall; the most common trafficking technique is to hide 
the drugs in passenger vehicles or tractor-trailers as they drive into the U.S. 
at official crossings.

   The first lady spoke briefly about her visits to hospitals and treatment 
centers and her meetings with doctors and nurses as part of her own campaign to 
highlight the "terrible toll the opioid epidemic is having on children and 
young mothers."

   "My husband is here today because he cares deeply about what you're doing to 
help the millions of Americans affected by the opioid epidemic," she said.

   It's difficult to get a complete and authoritative accounting of how much 
the federal government is spending to fight opioid abuse since it occurs across 
many programs, including Medicaid, which doesn't require annual funding 
approval from Congress, and dozens of other programs that do. Public health 
experts say the amount probably is not enough.

   The wide-ranging opioids legislation that Trump signed last fall outlined 
many steps to improve care and access to treatment. For example, it allowed 
nurse practitioners to prescribe addiction treatment medication, boosted 
incentives for people to get training in addiction medicine and allowed 
Medicare to cover the use of methadone for opioid addiction.

   Humphreys, who worked with lawmakers on the measure, said the parties 
disagreed on the fundamental question of how much money to dedicate to the 
problem, so instead they cobbled together various small improvements they could 
agree on.

   "And that's all good," Humphreys said. "But it's not transformative." 


(KA)

 
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