Trump says U.S. will 'win' fight against opioid epidemic

Mikaela Conley

A week after President Trump was blasted by Republicans and Democrats for calling New Hampshire, one of the states hardest hit by the opioid crisis, a “drug-infested den” in a private phone call with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, he held a “major briefing” at his private golf club in New Jersey to discuss how to properly combat the crisis and “keep youth from going down this deadly path.”

“During my campaign, I promised to fight this battle, because, as president of the United States, my greatest responsibility is to protect the American people and to ensure their safety, especially in some parts of our country, it is horrible,” Trump told reporters after the closed-door meeting. He added he and his opioid commission, which is led by Gov. Christie, are working with law enforcement, public health officials and a “tremendous team of experts” to “win” the fight. “We have no alternative,” he added.

Trump also focused on ramped-up law enforcement on the country’s southern border with Mexico, where much of the deadly heroin supply enters the U.S., saying, “we’re being very, very strong on our southern border — and I would say the likes of which this country certainly has never seen that kind of strength.”

In a press conference after the meeting, Health and Human Secretary Tom Price said the president “fully understands” the enormity of the crisis.

Price also noted the administration’s plans to provide adequate research and access to naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug, and make space for proper analysis of the data surrounding the crisis.

“The problem is very complicated and right now we’re on the losing side of this war,” White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway added during the press conference. Conway also noted that the new evolution of the crisis is in newborns — with one baby being born every 25 minutes addicted to opioids in the U.S.

Last week, the opioid commission released an interim report of its findings, and Christie urged the president to declare a public health emergency in the U.S., under either the Public Health Service Act or the Stafford Act.

Such a declaration would “empower your Cabinet to take bold steps and would force Congress to focus on funding and empowering the executive branch even further to deal with this loss of life,” the commission wrote.

During his campaign, Trump repeatedly vowed to solve the opioid crisis raging throughout the U.S., and he specifically promised in New Hampshire to “stop the heroin from pouring in” during a campaign stop in the state in September 2016. But many experts have said that the new administration has done little so far to combat the epidemic.

Opioids — both prescription medications and street drugs like heroin — are now the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., killing more than 33,000 people in 2015, more than any year on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About half that number involved prescription opioids. More than 2 million Americans are estimated to have a problem with opioids, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Still Trump seemed to remain ultimately optimistic about the outcome of the crisis.

“We have to win for our youth,” the president said. “We have to win for our young people — and, frankly, we have to win for a lot of other people, not necessarily young, that are totally addicted and have serious, serious problems.”

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