Local officials react to Trump’s opioid epidemic declaration

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national health emergency on Thursday and Massachusetts has been ground zero.

“This is a worldwide problem,” Trump said during his speech. “We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic. We can do it.”

According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, there were 916 opioid-related deaths in 2013. Every year since, the number has grown by hundreds. The numbers have more than doubled within the past four years.

Nancy Paull with Stanley Street Treatment and Resources (SSTAR) in Fall River said she is pleased that Trump’s speech continues the conversation but was disappointed that the president stopped short of signing a national disaster declaration, which would have freed up federal funds immediately.

“We’re at a crisis, this is an epidemic. Every day we wait people are dying,” Paull said. “I see no commitment of resources or changes in policy. Where’s the beef? Show me.”

On Thursday, Massachusetts Democrats called upon Governor Charlie Baker to resign from Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, which they say continues to dole out “empty promises.”

“Last year, Massachusetts lost more people to the opioid crisis than we lost during the entire Vietnam War,” said Massachusetts Democratic Party Chair Gus Bickford. “Trump’s blustering, empty rhetoric and the inaction from the Commission are shameful. Once again, Trump is reneging on his promises and once again Charlie is giving him a pass. Members of the President’s commission are complicit in the Trump Administration’s deceit. Governor Baker should resign from his post immediately.”

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren said in a statement she is glad Trump addressed the opioid epidemic, but also that he needs to do more.

“After months of inaction, President Trump has taken a step in the right direction by declaring that the opioid crisis sweeping our nation is an emergency,” Warren said. “But the administration must do more to back up its commitments with action. States and communities need a significant increase in federal funding for existing opioid addiction programs, and today’s announcement from the president does not deliver those funds.”

It’s not just Massachusetts struggling with the crisis. In Rhode Island, the Department of Health said 336 people overdosed from opoids last year. This year, 185 people have overdosed so far.

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo released a statement saying the state has invested in treatment and prevention while also expanding support for recovery.

“President Trump’s announcement today falls short and shows that he does not fully understand the scope and real-life impact that this crisis has had on Rhode Islanders and Americans who have been directly touched by addiction and overdose,” she said.

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed released a statement following Trump’s speech saying his response to the opioid epidemic is underwhelming.

“The opioid crisis is a national emergency that requires urgent care, attention, and resources,” he said. “While President Trump seems to recognize there’s a serious problem, the fact is he’s ignored the recommendations of his own opioid commission and the problem continues to worsen and thousands of Americans are dying.”

Reed said Trump’s declaration underscores that he does not understand or “simply doesn’t care” about the national opoid epidemic.

“Instead of offering platitudes, President Trump should bring people together and take meaningful action. And Congressional Republicans should join us in providing emergency resources,” Reed added.

U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse also released a statement stating we need more than declarations from the president.

“The President is certainly right to call the scourge of opioid addiction a public health emergency,” he said. “But to fight this emergency in earnest, we need more than declarations. We need full funding behind the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act Congress passed last year.”

U.S. Congressman David Cicilline said it is time for the president to put his words to action.

“Whenever the President talks about cutting Medicaid funding or repealing the Affordable Care Act, he’s talking about actions that will make this crisis even worse,” he said. “If he’s serious about taking on the opiate epidemic, he needs to work with members of both parties in Congress to provide whatever resources are necessary to preserve life and help people break the cycle of addiction. That’s the only way we’re going to get a handle on this problem.”

Paull said she hopes funding will come through to help them build a new multi-million dollar center in Fall River’s north end.

“The time for talking has really passed,” she said. “We need help now, we need help every day. I need more social workers, I need more nurses, I need more doctors.”

Trump said over time, this declaration will turn around the crisis.

“Our current addiction crisis and especially the epidemic of opioid deaths will get worse before it gets better but get better it will,” he said.