During President Donald Trump’s “major briefing” on the opioid epidemic Tuesday, he said it was “a problem the likes of which we have never seen.” And yet, despite acknowledging the severity of the crisis, Trump proposed no new policies to combat rising rates of drug overdose deaths in the United States.
Indeed, Secretary of Health Tom Price confirmed that the White House would not declare a state of emergency at this time. The decision comes on the heels of a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics, an agency of the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, that shows the rate of estimated drug overdose deaths increased in the third quarter of 2016 and outpaced the rate of drug-related deaths over the same period in 2015.
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The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported in January that drug overdoses claimed the lives of 52,404 Americans last year, with more than 60% of those deaths related to opioid drugs.
In an interim report last week, the Trump-appointed Commission on Combating Drug Addition and the Opioid Crisis — which is headed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie — first recommended that the president declare a national public health emergency.
“We have a 9/11-scale loss every three weeks,” Christie said, pointing to the fact that 142 Americans die each day from drug overdoses.
As the executive branch decides how to address the opioid epidemic, communities hit hardest by the prescription drug crisis are beginning to target the pharmaceutical companies responsible for selling the addictive drugs. Ohio is suing five drug manufacturers and McKesson faces a lawsuit in West Virginia (though the company’s CEO is still taking home a hefty bonus).
The effects of the crisis reach many other communities as well: 37% of Americans know someone addicted to prescription opioids or painkillers, with nearly one in four people knowing someone who has overdosed on these drugs, according to a Fortune survey. The survey showed that respondents still blame users ahead of doctors or pharmaceutical companies.