While vacationing at his New Jersey golf club, President Donald Trump hosted a “major briefing” Tuesday on the nation’s opioid crisis.
Last week, the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis said in its interim report that the president needs to declare a national state of emergency to create a more urgent response to what they called a public health crisis. On Thursday, there was speculation that Trump would issue that declaration when he held a campaign rally in Huntington, West Virginia, a town whose 49,000 residents that have been hard-hit by the opiate epidemic. Trump made no such declaration but did cheer as West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said he would leave the Democratic Party to become a Republican.
Before the briefing began Tuesday in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump reiterated his commitment to fight the nation’s ongoing opioid crisis, emphasizing the need for law enforcement to crack down on drug-related crimes and prevention of drug misuse.
“We’re going to have a tremendous team of experts and people that want to beat this horrible situation that has happened in our country — and we will,” Trump told reporters. “We will win. We have no alternative.”
Later in the day, when asked by reporters why Trump was not yet declaring a national emergency as his commission recommended, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said the president was certainly taking the issue seriously.
But “most national emergencies that have been declared in the area of public health emergency have been focused on a specific area, a time-limited problem — either an infectious disease or a specific threat to public health. The two most recent that come to mind are the Zika outbreak and Hurricane Sandy. So we believe that at this point, the resources that we need or the focus that we need to bring to bear to the opioid crisis, at this point, can be addressed without the declaration of an emergency,” Price said, while adding that “all things are on the table for the president.”
Kellyanne Conway, counsel to the president, said along with discussing medication and treatment, Tuesday’s briefing also looked at how to better educate doctors.
“No state has been spared, and no demographic group has been untouched,” Conway said.
Along with Price and Conway, others who attended the meeting included First Lady Melania Trump, Price, White House Chief of Staff and General John Kelly, Senior Advisor Jared Kushner, Kirstjen Nielsen with Department of Homeland Security, Andrew Bremberg of the Domestic Policy Council, Reed Cordish, Robert Porter, acting drug czar Richard Baum and Nina Schaefer from Department of Health and Human Services. No members of the opioid commission appeared to be in the room.
Public health officials share growing concern about the opiate crisis, which killed 59,000 people last year, according to data analysis from the New York Times.
On Tuesday morning, before he announced he would speak, Trump tweeted a report from Fox & Friends about a new study that says overdose deaths have been underreported.