Metro

Trump promises opioid fight, but Warren and others ask, ‘Where’s the money?’

Senator Elizabeth Warren
Michael Reynolds/EPA/Shutterstock
Senator Elizabeth Warren

President Trump made a lofty promise in Tuesday night’s State of the Union to “fight the drug epidemic,” but Senator Elizabeth Warren wants to know what his administration has actually done to address the issue.

The Trump administration declared a public health emergency last year but has yet to officially allocate any new funds to address the opioid crisis, the Massachusetts Democrat said in a letter to the Government Accountability Office.

“Given the severity of the crisis, we have grown increasingly concerned by reports that the President has done little to make use of his public health emergency declaration, leaving state and local communities without the resources they need to fight the opioid epidemic,” the letter said.

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The letter was cosigned by Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, along with 17 other senators.

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“Despite saying it would work with Congress, the White House has put forward no proposals for authorizing new funding,” the letter continued, asking for a review of the administration’s actions.

Trump referred in his speech to the “terrible crisis of opioid and drug addiction,” saying 64,000 Americans died in drug overdoses in 2016. He said a crackdown on drug dealers is necessary “if we are going to succeed in stopping this scourge.”

“My administration is committed to fighting the drug epidemic and helping get treatment for those in need,” he continued. “The struggle will be long and difficult — but, as Americans always do, we will prevail.”

Trump directed the Department of Health and Human Services last fall to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency. The declaration ran for 90 days, and last week it was extended for another 90 days.

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But despite bipartisan calls for action from governors and lawmakers, his administration has not allocated funding. The new secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, Alex Azar, has also not committed to supporting new funding, Warren’s office said.

Warren’s office also said that initiatives Trump promised when he declared an emergency have not materialized, that Trump plans to cut funding for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, and that he has failed to fill key positions for addressing the opioid crisis, including director of the drug control policy office and the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“It is critical that the federal government utilize all available resources to prevent and treat opioid addiction, as well as utilize available resources efficiently, and effectively,” the senators wrote in the letter.

“Therefore, to help us better understand the resources available to the executive branch to combat the opioid epidemic and the steps the Trump Administration has taken since declaring the crisis a public health emergency, we request that the GAO conduct a review,” the letter said.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s office said Baker, a Republican, expects Azar to take on the opioid epidemic as his top priority.

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“The Baker-Polito Administration has prioritized fighting the opioid epidemic by using every tool available, from significantly increased funding levels to first-in-the-nation policies on prescription limits and prevention education for providers,” Baker spokesman Brendan Moss said in a statement, “and as a member of the President’s opioid commission, Governor Baker urges federal officials to take action on the Commission’s bipartisan recommendations with the support of newly-confirmed HHS Secretary Azar.”