Trump calls opioid crisis a “public health emergency,” Democrats argue the announcement is “words without money”

WASHINGTON, D.C.-- More than 100 Americans a day die from an opioid overdose. Thursday, President Donald Trump called the opioid epidemic a "public health emergency" and announced new steps to fight an escalating opioid crisis.

The "National Health Emergency" will be effective for 90 days and can be renewed. It allows the government to redirect its resources to expand medical services in rural areas. But it won't bring any new money to fight a problem the Centers for Disease Control says kills more than 140 Americans a day.

"As Americans we cannot allow this to continue," Trump said in a speech at the White House, where he was joined by First Lady Melania Trump.

"This can happen to any of us," he said. "No state has been spared."

Democrats, like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, are calling the new declaration "words without money."

But for some people directly impacted by addiction, something is better than nothing.

"Every time they'd give me more, my body would get immune to it," said Patricia Slevin, a former opiate user, of her time using opioids. "But every time I didn't have it, my body would get sick."

The CDC says the number of deaths related to opioid overdoses is four times the amount it was in 1999.

 

 

Officials said they also would urge Congress, during end-of-the year budget negotiations, to add new cash to a public health emergency fund that Congress hasn't replenished for years. The Public Health Emergency Fund currently contains just $57,000, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, a negligible amount. Officials would not disclose how much they were seeking.

 

Trump's audience Thursday included parents who have lost children to drug overdoses, people who have struggled with addiction, and first responders whose have used overdose reversal drugs to save lives.

Trump also spoke personally about his own family's experience with addiction. His older brother, Fred Jr., died after struggling with alcoholism. It's the reason the president does not drink.

Trump described his brother as a "great guy, best looking guy," with a personality "much better than mine"

"But he had a problem, he had a problem with alcohol," the president said. "I learned because of Fred."

Fred Jr. is in the center, standing up; to his right is President Trump.

Trump said he hoped a massive advertising campaign, which sounded reminiscent of the 1980s "Just Say No" campaign, might have a similar impact.

"If we can teach young people, and people generally, not to start, it's really, really easy not to take 'em," he said.