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Listening to What is Not Said: President Trump’s Declaration Of a Public Health Emergency

Children Embracing

I listened attentively to the speech, pulled over to the side of the road, taking notes.

I heard the President declare there were over 64,000 deaths attributable to drug overdose in 2016, with 2/3 of these being caused by opioids. Overall about 7 deaths per hour.  I heard him say that in West Virginia 1 of 5 newborns come into this life with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome as a health consequence of the birthmother’s addiction to opioids. I heard him elaborate on the importance of Substance Use Counseling being provided to people with addiction who are incarcerated. And I listened as he underlined the inestimable significance of demand reduction over the foreseeable future, the cultural mandate to protect our children by educating them and supporting them, fully equipping them with the cognitive, emotional and social skills necessary to choose healthy behaviors, and avoid the allure of psychoactive chemicals.

I couldn’t have agreed more with every point he made.

What I didn’t hear was the “first and most urgent recommendation” of the Interim Report of the Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis*: to “declare a national emergency under either the Public Health Service Act or the Stafford Act”. This would have created a wide avenue for the quick release of funds to support initiatives, which the declaration of a public health emergency fails to do.

The National Council For Behavioral Health stated “ While the National Council is pleased to see the President recognize the opioid crisis as a public health emergency , the announcement comes without any new funding to respond to the epidemic and the specifics of the declaration are still unclear”.

It’s important to note that the following major recommendations of the President’s Commission’s Interim Report all included funding:

  • Establish and fund a federal incentive to enhance access to Medication Assisted Treatment;
  • Prioritize funding and manpower to Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, FBI, DEA, and USPS to staunch the supply of fentanyls to our country;
  • Provide federal funding … to states to enhance interstate data sharing among prescription drug monitoring programs.

Without adequate funding great ideas remain ideas, intentions remain intentions.

7 people die each hour from drug overdoses in our country, 2/3 of this number specifically attributable to opioid overdose.

1 in 5 newborns begins life with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome in W Virginia. Millions of incarcerated individuals in America do not receive Substance Use Counseling to equip them to thrive upon release and the freedom to succeed in life.

And so it goes.

These people do not need great ideas or intentions. We, as Americans, do not need rhetoric and bare minimum responses from our leadership.

I ask you, “what will it take to declare a national emergency under the Public Health Service Act or the Stafford Act? What will it take to prompt the administration’s willingness to follow the clear recommendations of its own appointed Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis? What will it take to muster the willingness, the resources to transform great ideas and intentions into even greater realities for all Americans?”

We will have to wait until 11/1, just around the corner, to see what the formal response to the Commission’s final recommendations are. Hopefully, there will be adequate funding for programs and services focused upon prevention, treatment, recovery support services and interdiction, the level of funding necessary to change an unacceptable reality.

* Interim Report: https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/whitehouse.gov/files/ondcp/commission-interim-report.pdf

Ed Baker is a Licensed Alcohol/Drug Counselor and Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker and Aspenti Health’s Education Specialist. Ed has practiced psychotherapy with individuals with Substance Use Disorder for over 30 years in both inpatient and outpatient private practice settings. Ed researches and reports on subjects related to psychoactive drugs and use trends, substance use disorder, treatment, and recovery. Ed himself is in personal recovery from addiction for 33 years.

2 thoughts on “Listening to What is Not Said: President Trump’s Declaration Of a Public Health Emergency

  1. “Without adequate funding great ideas remain ideas, intentions remain intentions.” Couldn’t agree more.

    And what about holding the drug companies liable like 46 states’ Attorneys General did for big tobacco in 1998? Would love to see them foot at least some of the bill and be held accountable for their misleading and harmful marketing of opioids.

    Thanks for the interesting read!

    1. Hi Cathy, and thanks for your thoughtful comment. It’s a great analogy you draw between the tobacco industry and the pharmaceutical industry.
      Pharmaceutical manufacturers like Purdue, and distributors like McKesson are being investigated and will be held responsible for their roles in enabling the public health crisis we face in America today, once sufficient evidence is gathered. Purdue has already admitted to misleading the public regarding the addiction potential of OxyContin. Vermont’s Attorney General Donovan joined with 41 other Attorneys General in an investigation which will track Purdue and McKesson’s business practices over the past two decades. Hopefully funds will become available to states as a result of these investigations, and we will be able to both increase treatment and prevention as a result.

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