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Monday 21 October 2019

Donald Trump declares US opioid crisis a nationwide emergency

Donald Trump told of his brother's struggle with alcoholism
Donald Trump told of his brother's struggle with alcoholism

President Donald Trump on Thursday declared the opioid crisis a nationwide public health emergency, a step that will not bring new dollars to fight a scourge that kills nearly 100 Americans a day but will expand access to medical services in rural areas, among other changes.

"This epidemic is a national health emergency," Mr Trump said in a speech at the White House, where he bemoaned a crisis he said had spared no segment of American society.

"As Americans we cannot allow this to continue," he said.

Administration officials have made clear that the declaration, which lasts for 90 days and can be renewed, comes with no dedicated dollars.

But they said it will allow them to use existing money to better fight the crisis.

Officials also said they would urge Congress, during end-of-the year budget negotiations, to add new cash to a public health emergency fund that Congress has not replenished for years.

The Public Health Emergency Fund currently contains just 57,000 dollars, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, a negligible amount. Officials would not disclose how much they were seeking.

But critics said that was not enough.

"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 Behavioural 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 also was critical, calling the new declaration "words without the money".

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

Mr Trump also spoke personally about his own family's experience with addiction, his older brother, Fred Jr, died after struggling with alcoholism.

It is the reason the president does not drink.

Mr 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."

Mr 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.


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