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What progress has the White House made on addressing opioids?

On average, 115 people die every day due to opioid overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The White House declared the opioid crisis a “public health emergency” last October and last week held a summit where President Trump praised the death penalty for drug dealers, a statement that was shocking to many. The Washington Post’s Katie Zezima joins Hari Sreenivasan.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    The opioid crisis continues to rage in this country. according to the CDC overdoses kill an estimated 115 people every day. After declaring last October that the crisis is a "public health emergency," the White House held a summit on the topic last week. It was attended by families advocates and administration officials. So what is the administration done to address this emergency to help answer that? I'm joined by Katie Zezima of The Washington Post. What kind of progress has been made? I mean it's been a few months since the White House said that this was a public health emergency?

  • KATIE ZEZIMA:

    Well depends on who you ask. the White House said that they have taken steps to try to combat this epidemic, which as you said is killing tens of thousands of people a year. You know the White House has said that they have loosened rules to make it easier for people to get into treatment. They are going to come out with basically an ad campaign to let people know about how you know how much this epidemic is affecting the United States for people and allow people to you know really tell their stories. Advocates on the other hand say that they really have not done that much. Cities and states still have not gotten money to help fight the crisis. Advocates said a number of the things the White House want to do, you know get more people into treatment are all good things but they haven't actually seen any measurable progress yet.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Now the White House also says they're going to have more policies on this. Are any of these critiques are going to be addressed by that or what else are they proposing?

  • KATIE ZEZIMA:

    President Trump said that there's going to be more policies in the next couple of weeks but he did not specify exactly what they are. So I think that still remains to be seen. You know one of the things that they that they want to do and they have made some progress toward is lifting the cap on the number of people in residential treatment beds. Congress actually had to change the law but the administration is asking states to apply for waivers to lift those caps so more people can can get treatment.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Earlier last week Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that the Department of Justice wants to take part in going after some of the pharmaceutical companies. The president expressed support for that idea. Does it make a difference?

  • KATIE ZEZIMA:

    Well, so what Attorney General Sessions wants to do is they filed a memorandum of interest in a very very large lawsuit that is happening out of Cleveland. And what that lawsuit is, is hundreds and hundreds of cities and towns and counties and states and municipalities around the country have sued pharmaceutical companies. They all have very different claims but all of these suits have been enjoined in this one mammoth lawsuit in Cleveland. So the Department of Justice filed a motion of interest in this case. It remains to be seen as to whether they will actually join in. And another thing that Attorney General Sessions did this past week, is he ordered the DEA to look at production quotas for opioids. So that's actually quite a big deal you know seeing how many opioids are manufactured in the United States and whether it is too high.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    The president also made a remark at this particular event. He said, "some countries have a very very tough penalty, the ultimate penalty. And by the way they have much less of a drug problem than we do. So we're going to have to be very strong on the penalties." Some people interpret that to be the death penalty for drug dealers?

  • KATIE ZEZIMA:

    Well the president said that there are certain countries where people pay the ultimate penalty and he also said that you know, people can get the death penalty here for killing one person and people who have certain drug dealers. It seems as though he was talking about people who deal fentanyl and can have the potential to kill thousands of people at once. You know I was told by someone in the White House that this has been reported by other people as well that he saw what happened in Singapore, which has the death penalty for drug dealers and he was interested in that and that the White House is looking at this idea of possibly making trafficking large amounts of fentanyl drugs, which can be very very deadly and kill people instantly a capital crime.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    In the meeting and after that meeting what are the communities, the people who are advocating for reform, what have been pushing for that perhaps the White House is listening to or not listening to on how this crisis can be wrangled? I mean I them wouldn't want to say it's going to be fixed or it's going to be solved anytime soon.

  • KATIE ZEZIMA:

    So the thing about this crisis that's so that makes it so difficult is that every city and every town and really every person needs some something different in terms of whether he or she you know wants treatment at this time and how to help that person. So that's part of the reason why this epidemic has been so difficult to solve.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Right. Katie's Zezima of The Washington Post joining us from Washington. Thanks a bunch.

  • KATIE ZEZIMA:

    Thank you.

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