Little Regional Coordination As Trump Unveils Delayed Opioid Emergency Plan

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Many lawmakers from the Ohio Valley region say they’ll be at the White House Thursday as President Donald Trump is expected to unveil a long-awaited emergency declaration to address the opioid crisis. The president is scheduled to speak on the issue 2 p.m. Thursday afternoon.

However, health officials and addiction treatment experts in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia — among the states hardest hit by the epidemic — say they’ve had little contact from the Trump administration as it developed the emergency response.

The President called opioid addiction “an emergency” in early August, but Trump’s address will be the first time many of the people combating the crisis hear what is in the administration’s emergency plan.

Some Hints

Women’s Hope Center Director Stephanie Raglin works in addiction treatment in Lexington, Kentucky. She said federal help is welcome but it concerns her that few seem to know who was at the table providing input for the emergency plan.

“We don’t even know what the plan looks like,” she said. “So the hope is to see what President Trump has to say and hopefully he will listen to those who are out in the field who are doing the leg work.”

None of the state health and drug control organizations the ReSource spoke to had heard from the White House seeking input specifically for this declaration.

But some recent activity hints at what Trump’s emergency plan might include.

First Lady Melania Trump with an infant born affected by opioids. (Courtesy White House, Office of the First Lady)
First Lady Melania Trump with an infant born affected by opioids. (Courtesy White House, Office of the First Lady)

First Lady Melania Trump invited those working in addiction from the region to the White House in late September to hear their stories. She followed up by visiting Lily’s Place in Huntington, West Virginia earlier this month to discuss treatment for babies born affected by opioids taken by pregnant mothers.

congressional oversight hearing Wednesday included five federal organizations working to combat the opioid crisis.

Dr. Anne Schuchat with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited efforts in Kentucky to improve the monitoring of opioid prescriptions.

“Prompts were added to the prescription drug monitoring program to alert to high doses, which resulted in a 25 percent reduction in opioid prescribing to youth,” she said.

National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Dr. Nora Volkow pointed to work underway to create longer-lasting versions of the addiction treatment medication buprenorphine.

“That would be a real game changer,” she said. “Especially for people who live in rural communities and face significant logistical challenges accessing treatment.”

“Can’t Afford It”

Regardless of the details the emergency measure will require one key ingredient:  proper funding.

West Virginia Republican Rep. David McKinley said in Wednesday’s hearing that securing federal funding has been an issue for small, rural towns that have been hit hard by the epidemic.

“Are we telling these little towns that have 200 to 300 people, ‘You have to get a grant writer to submit something for you?’” he asked. “They can’t afford it.”

The Ohio Valley region has a rate of opioid-related deaths that is twice the national average. In 2015, on average, 90 people a day died from a drug overdose in the US. Of those, 12 came from Kentucky, Ohio, or West Virginia. As of 2016 that number climbed to 17 deaths a day in the region — 15 of those due to opioids.

The three state region is responsible for 13 percent of all opioid-related deaths in the country. About 85 percent of overdose deaths in the region involve an opioid.