Trump vows to 'end the opioid epidemic'

Donald Trump makes remarks on combating drug demand and the opioid crisis.
Donald Trump makes remarks on combating drug demand and the opioid crisis. Photo credit: Getty

In ringing and personal terms, President Donald Trump has pledged that "we will overcome addiction in America", declaring opioid abuse a national public health emergency and announcing new steps to combat what he described as the worst drug crisis in US history.

Mr Trump's declaration, which will be effective for 90 days and can be renewed, will allow the government to redirect resources in various ways and to expand access to medical services in rural areas. But it won't bring new dollars to fight a scourge that kills nearly 100 people a day.

"As Americans we cannot allow this to continue," Mr Trump said in a speech Thursday at the White House, where he bemoaned an epidemic he said had spared no segment of society, affecting rural areas and cities, rich and poor and both the elderly and newborns.

"It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction," he said. "We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic."

Deaths have surged from opioids, which include some prescribed painkillers, heroin and synthetic drugs such as fentanyl, often sold on the nation's streets.

Administration officials said they also would urge Congress, during end-of-the year budget negotiations, to add new cash to a public health emergency fund that Congress hasn't replenished for years and contains just US$57,000.

But critics said Thursday's words weren't enough.

"How can you say it's an emergency if we're not going to put a new nickel in it?" said Dr Joseph Parks, medical director of the nonprofit National Council for Behavioral Health, which advocates for addiction treatment providers. "As far as moving the money around," he added, "that's like robbing Peter to pay Paul."

Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi said, "Show me the money."

Mr Trump's audience Thursday included parents who have lost children to drug overdoses, people who have struggled with addiction, first responders and lawmakers.

Mr Trump also spoke personally about his own family's experience with addiction: His older brother, Fred Jr, died after struggling with alcoholism. It's the reason the president does not drink.

Mr Trump described his brother as a "great guy, best looking guy" with a personality "much better than mine".

"But he had a problem, he had a problem with alcohol," the President said. "I learned because of Fred."

Reuters