Strategic observation

Spotlight: With opioid epidemic worsening, Trump favors tough solutions

2017-08-10 01:11:45 (Beijing Time)


WASHINGTON, Aug. 9 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Donald Trump has preferred a tough law-and-order approach on an opioid crisis that has plagued the country and killed dozens each day, but stopped short of declaring it a national emergency.


"Strong law enforcement is absolutely vital to having a drug-free society," said Trump as he received an update on the crisis at his golf club in U.S. state of New Jersey on Tuesday during what the White House called the president's 17-day "working vacation."

"Drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, and opioid overdose deaths have nearly quadrupled since 1999," he said. "It is a problem the likes of which we have not seen."

As a kind of substances that act on opioid receptors to produce morphine-like effects, opioids are primarily used for pain relief in medical practices.

However, a frequent use of them typically results in addiction, and an overdose commonly leads to death from respiratory depression.

While stressing that the "best way to prevent drug addiction and overdose is to prevent people from abusing drugs in the first place," Trump vowed tough measures on the U.S. southern border "where much of this comes in."

It was one of Trump's campaign promises to end the opioid epidemic. But his law-and-order approach appeared to have contradicted with a promise he made to favor a humanitarian mind-set when dealing with the problem last year.


Trump did not declared the opioid epidemic a national emergency, a recommendation that the Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, led by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, made late July in an interim report.

In addition to the recommendation, the report emphasized medical solutions, including an expanded access to drug treatment for Medicaid recipients, wider use of medication-assisted treatments, and development of non-opioid pain relievers, rather than focusing on border security and enforcing laws.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who briefed Trump on the issue, later told reporters that a national emergency is declared for "a time-limited problem," either an infectious disease or a specific threat to public health.

Under a state of emergency, the government is allowed to quickly remove some barriers and waive some federal rules so that states and local government don't need to wait to act.

Price said the administration is treating the opioid epidemic as an emergency and all options are on the table despite there is no formal declaration.

The Health and Human Service Department, the Justice Department and other agencies will work on a strategy to fight the crisis "in short order," Price added.


The commission on opioid crisis said the situation that the country is facing is unparalleled.

In his inaugural address, Trump said there have been too many lives claimed by drugs and the country has been robbed of so much unrealized potential.

On Tuesday, Trump cast blame on the previous administration for the deteriorating opioid problem amid a shrinking number of federal drug prosecutions.

"At the end of 2016, there were 23 percent fewer than in 2011. So they looked at this surge and they let it go by," Trump said. "We're not letting it go by."

The commission, established by Trump in March, was charged to studying ways to "combat and treat the scourge of drug abuse, addiction and the opioid abuse." Analysts said the president has done little to help besides that, with only talks and broad promises.

According to figures provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 52,000 overdose deaths in 2015, of which over 33,000 were related to opioids.

Meanwhile, federal data showed that drug overdose deaths are on the rise. The overdose rate reached a record 19.9 per 100,000 people in the third quarter of last year, up from 16.7 for the corresponding period in 2015.