HARTFORD, CT — Those leading the fight against the opioid crisis in Connecticut are happy that President Donald Trump has declared it a national emergency. But they also are saying that action speaks louder than words.
“The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I’m saying officially, right now, it is an emergency,” Trump said at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey last Thursday. “It’s a national emergency. We’re going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of money on the opioid crisis.”
Trump’s surprise announcement came two days after he vowed the U.S. would “win” the fight against the epidemic but stopped short of declaring it a national emergency. It was not immediately clear what prompted Trump’s change of course. But he called the crisis “a serious problem the likes of which we have never had.”
Trump’s change of mind and acceptance of the recommendations of his presidential commission on the subject were welcome news to those fighting the drug crisis in Connecticut.
Accidental drug intoxication deaths, which increased 25 percent in 2016, “are not decreasing,” Connecticut’s Chief Medical Examiner James Gill told first responders and community providers at a recent summit in Bridgeport.
Accidental drug intoxication deaths in the state over the past five years have spiked each year. There were 357 in 2012, followed by 495 in 2013, 568 in 2014, 729 in 2015, and 917 last year. There were more than 2.5 times as many deaths in 2016 than there were in 2012.
“I’m very encouraged to see the President declare a national emergency when it comes to the opioid epidemic,” Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, said.
Scanlon, who has been one of the leading advocates for legislation combating the drug crisis the past few years, added: “This has been an emergency in our state and our country for years and hopefully this declaration will lead to additional federal funding we desperately need for prevention and treatment programs here in Connecticut.”
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, who co-authored legislation last year to spend $1 billion to fight opioid addiction, was also happy to see Trump on board, but a bit skeptical.
“I thought last week’s opioid commission recommendations were a good framework, and I’m glad President Trump called this public health nightmare the emergency it is, but actions speak louder than words,” Murphy said.
Acknowledging the crisis is the first step, but Murphy urged action.
“I hope the administration follows through and sends real funding back to states for substance abuse prevention and treatment programs — the lives of people across Connecticut depend on it,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal added: “The opioid epidemic is indeed a national emergency,” and in order to address it, Trump must stop “his assault on access to affordable community-based treatment that has been a lifeline for thousands in Connecticut. He must also rescind his threat to defund local law enforcement agencies — first responders who live this fight each and every day.”
Experts said that the national emergency declaration would allow the executive branch to direct funds toward expanding treatment facilities and supplying police officers with the anti-overdose remedy naloxone.
It would also allow the administration to waive some federal rules, including one that restricts where Medicaid recipients can get addiction treatment.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who chairs the presidential opioid commission, thanked Trump for accepting the first recommendation of the group’s July 31 interim report.
“I am completely confident that the President will address this problem aggressively and do all he can to alleviate the suffering and loss of scores of families in every corner of our country,” Christie said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing the Commission’s efforts and to working with this President to address the approximately.”
Nearly 35,000 people across America died of heroin or opioid overdoses in 2015, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. A new University of Virginia study recently released concluded the mortality rates were 24 percent higher for opioids and 22 percent higher for heroin than had been previously reported.