Editorial: Opioids — Trump appears to have wrong focus

Published 7:30 pm Sunday, August 20, 2017

President Donald Trump last week told reporters he will declare a formal emergency over the opioid epidemic.

That appears to be the one aspect of his special commission’s report on the problem that he latched onto.

The commission, headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, urged the emergency declaration. It also — and this is the important part that the president appears to have ignored — emphasized that the painkiller problem be treated as a public health issue.

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The president, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, appear intent on a different direction. They view opioids as a matter of law enforcement, crimes to be prosecuted and punished. The reality is, we can’t arrest our way out of this problem.

The emergency declaration — which, despite Trump’s statement, has yet to go through the paperwork process — may not have much immediate impact if and when it comes. It should allow the administration to remove some bureaucratic barriers and waive some federal rules governing how states and localities respond to the drug epidemic.

It may allow the government to deploy the equivalent of its medical cavalry, the U.S. Public Health Service, a uniformed service of physicians and other staffers that can target places with little medical care or drug treatment.

All that would help, but it won’t solve the problem: an estimated 2.6 million addicts, with drug overdoses now killing more Americans than traffic accidents and gun homicides combined.

The Trump-Session approach is overly simplistic. The commission’s report called for increasing addicted patients’ access to inpatient treatment and medications, enhanced monitoring of opioid prescribing and improved training for health-care providers.

These recommendations appear to be afterthoughts at best for this president, judging by what he chose to emphasize in his public comments last week. That’s unfortunate.

We urge the president and his team to make this a public health emergency. That focus would create the sense of urgency that’s needed to save lives.

— Mankato Free Press, Aug. 16

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