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Billions sought in opioid fight

Local leaders welcome Trump’s declaration of crisis

President Donald Trump’s decision to formally label the nationwide opioid crisis a public health emergency led to a chorus of requests that more money and resources be freed locally.

Trump announced the move Thursday, opening some federal resources to address the crisis that is killing tens of thousands of people every year. But the decision itself falls far short of a solution, experts said, and political leaders in hard-hit Pennsylvania are seeking more money and help in the fight.

“President Trump’s decision to declare the opioid epidemic a public health emergency is an important step, but this is only the beginning,” Gov. Tom Wolf said Friday.

Wolf, along with many other leaders and public health experts, asked Trump to follow through on earlier promises and declare the crisis a national emergency — a more serious situation and one that could free more resources. The crisis has hit Pennsylvania harder than many states, with 5,000 reported dead from overdoses in a one-year period.

The declaration of a health emergency could open some money from a special fund to fight the epidemic, but that fund is nearly empty, NPR reported.

While Trump has promised to back antidrug campaigns and educational programs for young people, advocates have called for billions more to be spent on treatment and prevention.

On Friday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested the administration could agree to $45 billion to fight the epidemic, a number Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., endorsed.

“I am pleased that the White House has come out in favor of a $45 billion investment in the opioid crisis,” Casey said in a statement, calling for the administration to back his bill that sets aside that amount. “This legislation would invest the $45 billion in the opioid fight that the White House says it wants without eliminating coverage for substance use disorder, as the administration’s health care scheme did by decimating Medicaid.”

The fight against opioid abuse remains closely tied to the wider fight surrounding health care. Administration opponents like Casey have said Republican health care plans — which in some cases would cut Medicaid and other services over time — would harm the fight by limiting low-income Americans’ access to treatment.

The $45 billion figure has cropped up before: One Republican plan to repeal Obamacare would have set aside that amount to fight opioid abuse.

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who backed those repeal plans, expressed hope this week that bipartisan legislation could help stem the crisis.

“The president’s declaration of a Nationwide Public Health Emergency is a forceful reminder that the drug addiction and opioid abuse epidemic has a scale and breadth unmatched in recent history,” Toomey said. “Last year, drug overdose deaths increased by 40 percent in Pennsylvania.”

At the state level, lawmakers are taking their own steps to dent the pipeline from painkiller prescriptions to addiction and hard drugs. A bill state Rep. Frank Burns, D-Cambria, first proposed last year, asking Congress to demand the opioid OxyContin no longer be prescribed to children under 17, was laid on the table this week in the House.

Trump’s announcement came at the same time as the Cambria County commissioners vote to sue 26 drug manufacturers for the county’s costs fighting the epidemic. A growing number of state and local officials have sought to challenge drug makers in the courts, according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.

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