March 6, 2018
On Thursday, March 1, 2018, the White House held an Opioid Epidemic Summit to discuss possible solutions for the current public health emergency. In true Trump fashion, there was much discussion of possible policy implementations, but little action. Trump notably suggested that a capital charge should be set up for fentanyl traffickers and heroin drug dealers, similar to the death penalty set up in Singapore. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Alzar, encouraged states to use medication assistance programs or “wavers” provided through federal programs like Medicaid. In addition, Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Ben Carson, made efforts to continue to discuss how communities could provide more housing and resources for those suffering from addiction. The strongest action came from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who filed a statement of interest in suing opioid manufacturers and distributors. To do this, he set up a Prescription Interdiction and Litigation Task Force. Other cabinet secretaries discussed strategies to close the supply chain of fentanyl from China and Mexico. This would mostly encourage China and Mexico to make fentanyl illegal in their countries as well. Ultimately, the summit reviewed multiple policy options, but there is still little action from the administration on the crisis.
Since Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in October of 2017, there has been very little successful action on preventative measures and combatting the effects of the crisis. The medication assistance “waiver” program suggested by HHS Secretary Alzar has only been filed by five different governors. This is due to Trump’s suggestions to cut Medicaid programs which have greatly decreased states’ interest in forming a reliance on the medication assistance programs. Closing off the supply chain from Mexico and China could help with decreasing the amount of fentanyl trafficked, but only 1,485 pounds of fentanyl were seized by Customs and Border Protection officials from border and postal service intersection, compared to individual US distributors where as much as 141 pounds were seized from two traffickers. As for AG Sessions’ Task Force on Litigation, that appears to have been the most effective means of eradicating online trafficking sites like Alpha Bay and holding manufacturers and distributors accountable. Even so, it’s unclear how effective this policy will be since opioid manufacturers and distributors have provided close to $4 billion dollars in advocacy and lobbying in Congress for pharmaceutical companies profiting off of the current crisis. Litigating these conspirators will not stop them from advocating for the distribution of these drugs in the beginning of the supply chain. Additionally, Sessions has made comments negating the role of Big Pharma in the opioid crisis, and blaming medical marijuana instead for much of the problems.
- NLC Opioid Action Report -Learn more about the National League of Counties and Cities report on community engagement and action for leaders on combating the opioid crisis.
- As always, contact your state’s elected officials and voice your concerns.
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