For weeks, Donald Trump was expected to call a state of emergency over America’s worsening opioid addiction crisis. More than just a sensational gesture, calling a state of emergency would unlock extensive funding and resources to tackle the drug problem under the Strafford Act. Instead, he called for a nationwide “health emergency” under the Public Health Services Act. More than semantics, a health emergency doesn’t crack into the funds or FEMA resources many were hoping for, a huge downgrade from a state of emergency. Furthermore, members of his own task force are voicing their skepticisms that the president is up to this daunting task.
Patrick Kelly, former Rhode Island congressman and current member of the Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis spoke to The Washington Post about internal doubts. The decision to put the opioid crisis in the spotlight apparently caught even the commission off guard. While bringing the issue to the forefront, Kelly isn’t certain if Trump will do much more substantive than lip service. As we saw with Puerto Rico, there is a canyon-sized distinction between things Trump accomplishes and things Trump says he accomplishes.
One major problem is that the opioid response is wedged between Trump’s other two major projects: tax reform and repeal of the Obama administration’s American Care Act. Worse yet, Kelly feels that Trump’s goals on those two fronts would actively damage the fight against addiction. Squeezing out budgetary resources and stripping health care access to impoverished Americans in a crucial moment.
“The current efforts to repeal the ACA, as opposed to strengthening it, are irreconcilable with dealing with this crisis,” Kennedy told The Washington Post.
Other members of the commission have echoed this sentiment, that spiking programs like Medicaid would be disastrous. Commission member Roy Cooper, a North Carolina governor, told PBS NewsHour that, “we’re whistling past the graveyard if we don’t recognize that in order to provide treatment that we have to increase Medicaid funding to the states. And we have to make sure that every American has good quality health insurance that covers substance abuse and addiction treatment. Even law enforcement is recognizing that we cannot arrest our way out of this problem.”
According to Kelly, one of the big fights is between one of Trump’s most prominent supporters and an architect of his tax reform effort. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and head of the drug commission has been locking horns with budget chief Mick Mulvaney. Mulvaney was apparently concerned a state of emergency will lock up funds, complicating the administration’s budget in a year that has already overseen its share of emergencies.
“The tension is between the Mulvaney crowd, who is ideological about the numbers, and the Christie crowd, whose fidelity is towards the reality of what’s most practical,” Kennedy told The Washington Post.
Christie has stood by Trump much earlier than most in the Republican Party, no matter the level of degradation. But according to Kelly, Christie is trying to warn Trump that an inadequate response to addiction will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Not for Christie, but for Trump’s support base. Christie has since refuted Kelly’s statements, saying, “Let me be very clear. I know that President Trump understands this issue and supports fighting this epidemic aggressively. In the days ahead, I am confident that the President’s actions will speak louder than anything else.”
Christie hasn’t been the most forthcoming about the crisis, either. Vice reported that Christie is choosing to ignore one of the most frequently suggested resources in combating the opioid addiction: medicinal marijuana. While cannabis isn’t a sufficient solution in itself, it’d be one of many tools to combat an epidemic that began with negligently prescribed pain-killers, cannabis being a non-addictive alternative.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy told Vice that there had been over 8,000 comments received from the public, and that 7,800 comments mentioned marijuana. Cannabis has not been mentioned by the commission as part of its plan.
Christie has remained staunchly against cannabis legalization. “Then why not legalize heroin?” said Christie in May. “I mean, their argument fails just on that basis. Let’s legalize cocaine. Let’s legalize heroin. Let’s legalize angel dust. Let’s legalize all of it. What’s the difference?”
Without a solid response, lives will be lost. With opioid addiction, drug-related deaths increased around 20% between 2015 and 2016, over 60,000 lives lost. That rate is expected to continue into 2017.
Even those who are working on the emergency declaration were awaiting the finer print. Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan was hoping the measure would void policy limiting Medicaid in addiction centers. Executive Director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing Andrew Kolodny said he won’t believe Trump is serious if anything less than $1 billion is allocated to the crisis. All the while the commission in charge of preventing this seems worried Trump’s state of emergency will fizzle into a few photo ops. Downgrading the opioid action plan is a distressing start.