Doctors React To Trump's Opioid Emergency Declaration

Oct 27, 2017
Originally published on October 27, 2017 10:08 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We're hearing reaction this morning to President Trump's announcement yesterday that the opioid epidemic is a public health emergency. Yesterday Trump directed federal agencies to use all their authority to fight the drug crisis. He also promised what he said would be a massive ad campaign to convince young people not to start using. NPR's Greg Allen has been asking people on the front lines of this epidemic what all this means for them.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Joseph Scott is an emergency room doctor at Baptist Hospital in West Kendall, a Miami suburb.

JOSEPH SCOTT: I will reserve judgment, but I'm going to wait and see. I don't see how it's going to really help.

ALLEN: Like emergency room doctors around the country, Scott is seeing more and more people arriving with drug overdoses. Typically, doctors revive them, stabilize them and release them. It's not unusual to see them again in the E.R. a day or two later. Scott says the problem he and other doctors face is they don't have places to send patients for detox and recovery.

SCOTT: The greatest need is for treatment programs that are available to everyone, available to everyone despite what your insurance status is, whether you have limited insurance, it's a great insurance plan or no insurance.

ALLEN: In announcing the public health emergency for opioids, President Trump was following through on an interim recommendation by a commission chaired by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Trump also said his administration would begin issuing waivers to states, allowing them to use federal Medicaid funds for in-patient addiction treatment, another of the commission's recommendations. That waiver will be of limited use though in states like Florida that didn't expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

In Palm Beach County, Alton Taylor of the Drug Abuse Foundation says detox and recovery slots for people without health insurance are hard to come by.

ALTON TAYLOR: Between detox and residential treatment beds - ten years ago, we had 574 beds. Today we have less than 200.

ALLEN: Like many providers, Taylor says he's waiting to see if the emergency declaration brings increased funding. The White House says it will work with Congress in the budgeting process to include more money for opioid prevention, detection and treatment. But in the 2018 budget submitted to Congress, the Trump administration cut nearly $400 billion from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, the agency within HHS that oversees addiction treatment programs.

MAUREEN KIELIAN: I'm tired of talk. How many more times is he going to say he's going to do something and he's not?

ALLEN: Maureen Kielian is with Southeast Florida recovery advocates, a group she helped found after her son became addicted to opioids more than a decade ago. Like others, she's in a wait-and-see mode but glad the president followed through on a pledge he made more than two months ago to declare opioids a national emergency.

KIELIAN: Absolutely, we need it because we've lost 10,000 people since he started talking about it. But if it's unfunded - if this is an unfunded mandate, it will not help. And it's nothing but politics.

ALLEN: President Trump yesterday promised more action is coming on opioids. He said he'll work to implement the recommendations from the final report of the White House commission after they're delivered next week - Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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