WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump claimed credit Wednesday for progress in battling the nation’s opioid epidemic amid debate over whether the crisis has peaked and what his administration has accomplished.
“It’s a big problem. It’s a big addiction and we’re handling it,” Trump said as he and first lady Melania Trump left the White House for Atlanta to host an event to provide an update on the crisis.
“We’ve made a tremendous amount of progress,” Trump said, adding that the administration is getting help from doctors, laboratories, clinics and pharmaceutical companies.
Both are to speak Wednesday at a conference for elected leaders and health and law enforcement officials. The first lady focuses on opioids in her national “Be Best” campaign. The president has called the opioids situation a national health emergency.
Opioid abuse claimed a record of nearly 48,000 American lives in 2017. An estimated 2 million people are addicted to the drugs, which include both legal prescription pain medications and illegal drugs like heroin.
There have been signs of progress. The number of prescriptions for opioid painkillers filled in the U.S. fell substantially in 2017. Still, it’s unclear whether the opioid problem is on the decline.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said the president and first lady would provide an update on “the administration’s progress and success to reduce demand, raise awareness and save lives.”
Keith Humphreys, a drug policy adviser in the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations and now at Stanford University, said some states are making progress in combating opioids abuse, but not because of the president’s actions. He cited Rhode Island and Vermont as examples. He also said some states have regressed.
Humphreys said the president’s declaration of opioids addiction as a public health emergency in 2017 failed to translate into significant concrete action. Members of Congress, he said, “figured out they were going to have to do it themselves and they did.”
Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump’s top advisers, said Twitter and Google have also been helpful in combating the opioid and drug crisis. So far, the administration has helped to collect 3.7 million pounds of unused and expired medications — enough to fill seven Air Force One planes, she said.
The next “National Prescription Drug Take Back Day” is April 27.
Conway said she met Tuesday with drug enforcement and officials from Google, which is helping by displaying links to about 5,500 locations where people can drop off unused and expired pills.