US President Donald Trump has declared the opioid crisis a "nationwide public health emergency." Critics say without new cash the words are hollow.
Trump said on Thursday that the national emergency would fight the abuse of opioids such as Percocet, OxyContin, heroin and fentanyl.
"This epidemic is a national health emergency," Trump said in a speech at the White House. He said the crisis had spared no segment of American society. "As Americans we cannot allow this to continue."
The declaration lasts for 90 days and can be renewed repeatedly.
Trump said he was directing his acting health and human services secretary to oversee the process. The declaration further allows the Department of Labor to provide grants to opioid addicts to break the "cycle of addiction and unemployment."
Increased access to telemedicine treatment for people in rural areas will also be provided.
Federal funding won't increase
The declaration does not allocate any increased federal funding, however.
White House officials said they would push Congress at its end-of-the year budget negotiations to add new cash to the public health emergency fund that Congress hasn't added to for some years. It currently contains just $57,000 (€48,000), according to the Department of Health and Human Services, a negligible amount.
Officials would not disclose how much they were seeking.
Congress approved $1 billion in late 2016 to tackle addiction as part of the 21st Century Cures Act. States received half their Cures Act grants in April and will get the rest next year.
Critics cry foul
"How can you say it's an emergency if we're not going to put a new nickel in it?" said Dr. Joseph Parks, medical director of the nonprofit National Council for Behavioral Health, which advocates for addiction treatment providers.
"As far as moving the money around," he added, "that's like robbing Peter to pay Paul."
Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi called the new declaration "words without the money." Other Democrats criticized Trump's efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, in particular Medicaid expansion, which has been crucial in confronting the opioid epidemic.
Some 142 Americans died every day from a drug overdose in 2015. Two-thirds of the drug overdose deaths in that year were linked to Percocet, OxyContin, heroin and fentanyl.
Prescription painkillers and heroin contributed to some 60,000 overdose deaths in the US in 2016, a 19 percent rise over the previous year, according to an estimate compiled by The New York Times.
The last time a public health emergency was declared in the United States was in 2009 in response to the H1N1 influenza outbreak.
Trump earlier this year assembled a commission, led by Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, to study the problem. The commission's interim report - slated for next week - suggests the emergency declaration would free up additional money and resources.
Sessions' old fashioned cure
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Thursday that the first step to combating the country's opioid crisis is to get people to just "say no" to drugs, and he warned that marijuana could be serving as a gateway to the problem.
"We've got to re-establish first the view that you should say no. People should say no to drug use. They have got to protect themselves first," he said, during a question-and-answer session at the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington.
He added that "fentanyl people are really killers," but did not clarify to whom he was specifically referring, and said he has heard from many police chiefs that drug addiction "starts with marijuana."
jbh/kms (Reuters, AP, AFP)