Trump Declares The Opioid Epidemic A National Emergency

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Trump (finally) declared the opioid crisis a national emergency on Thursday.

"[W]e can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic," he said, instructing Eric Hargan, the acting Secretary of Health and Human Services, to call a 90-day public health emergency through the Public Health Service Act. This decision came three months after the opioid epidemic commission advised him to do just that. 

"This epidemic is a national health emergency," he added. 

It certainly is. Roughly 80 percent of the world's opioids are consumed in the US. In 2016, drug overdoses were responsible for roughly 59,000 American deaths.

Putting it into perspective, that's more than the number of people who died in combat during the Vietnam and Iraq wars combined. The bulk of overdoses were caused by some form of opioid, synthetic or natural.

"It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction," said Trump.

So, what exactly does he plan to do?

Trump emphasized the need for greater enforcement on people involved in the illegal drugs trade. (Many experts agree it would be more effective to treat the crisis as a health issue, not a criminal issue.)

"Every person who buys illicit drugs here in America should know that they are risking their futures, their families and even their lives," he said.

"Illegal drug use is not a victimless crime. There is nothing admirable, positive or socially desirable about it."

He also used the policy change as an opportunity to talk about his US-Mexico border wall.

"An astonishing 90% of the heroin in America comes from south of the border – where we will be building a wall – which will greatly help in this problem," he continued.

He is not wrong: a report published earlier this year found that 94 percent of heroin entering the United States came from Mexico. But he ignored the fact that illegal drugs are often smuggled through legal ports in all US borders in concealed vehicles and via underground tunnels.

And much of the country's fentanyl – a prescribed painkiller thought by many to be driving the opioid epidemic – derives from China and arrives in the States through US mail.

Basically, even if the wall makes it harder for some smugglers to sneak illegal drugs into the US, they will continue to find creative solutions whether that be drones or catapults. Or, you know, just finding a doctor all too ready to prescribe it.

He also completely failed to acknowledge how big pharma helped to create and sustain this crisis.

Rafael Lemaitre, Obama's communications director for the White House Drug Policy Office, told CNN: "A smarter play here would be for the administration to move beyond this declaration and pass the billions in funding needed to address this crisis. That is how you move the needle on this." 

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