A framework for combating the nation’s opioid crisis crafted by the Trump administration has leaked and it includes reimbursement restrictions to help curtail opioid prescriptions, an easing of regulations allowing for addiction treatment and controversially, the death penalty as punishment for some dealers.
The White House declared the opioid epidemic a national health emergency in October and promised a rollout of a “really tough, really big, really great” advertising campaign that would spread awareness about addiction. But that campaign never materialized, and no new funding was made available at the time.
The President formed an opioid commission to study ways to combat and treat drug abuse and the opioid crisis last March, but members of the six-person group have been highly critical of the lack of progress surrounding it. The commission has been turned into a “charade” and a “sham,” Democratic Congressman Patrick Kennedy, one of its members, said recently.
“Everyone is willing to tolerate the intolerable — and not do anything about it. I’m as cynical as I’ve ever been about this stuff,” Kennedy added.
Since 1999, 216,000 American have been killed as a result of opioid-based painkiller overdoses. An estimated 64,000 Americans were killed in 2016 as a result of drug overdose deaths, and most of them involved opioids. According to the CDC, emergency-room visits due to opioid overdoses rose 30% last summer alone, indicating the crisis is showing no signs of subsiding.
The President’s plan, which may be rolled out as soon as Monday when the President visits New Hampshire, one of the hardest-hit states by the opioid crisis, includes a list of initiatives that tackle treatment, prevention and punishment.
The plan calls for an expansion of first responders’ access to naloxone, an emergency medication used to rapidly reverse the effects of opioid overdoses, and also calls on states to closely monitor the number of issued opioid prescriptions through a database that can alert authorities to patients seeking an unusual amount of medication.
In 2012, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids, which amounts to more than one bottle of pills for every American adult, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
The President’s plan calls for making it easier to sentence drug dealers who knowingly sell lethal illegal opioids to mandatory minimum sentences and also empowers a new Justice Department task force to prosecute doctors, pharmacies and other providers that over-prescribe or over-produce opioid-based medication.
It also, recommends the death penalty for some individuals who distribute opioids.
The Trump administration hopes the plan will reduce opioid prescriptions by one-third within three years. The President made “stopping opioid abuse” one of his main campaign promises.
Critics are wary of the punishment initiatives in the plan, circumspect of reviving a failed war on drugs. “We are still paying the costs for one failed ‘war on drugs,’ and now President Trump is drawing up battle plans for another,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) said. “We will not incarcerate or execute our way out of the opioid epidemic.”
President Trump however, touted tougher punishment in attacking the opioid crisis as recently as March 1, when he hosted an opioid summit at the White House. “If you shoot one person, they give you life, they give you the death penalty,” he said. “These people can kill 2,000, 3,000 people and nothing happens to them.”