Is Trump's opioid declaration a good thing? Regional experts weigh in
President Donald Trump’s Thursday declaration that opioid abuse is a national public health emergency brought mixed reactions from local experts, who say they’re happy the issue is getting attention but unsure whether the region will see tangible change.
The declaration allows for a restructuring of existing resources with a focus on increasing treatment services in rural areas, where drug overdose death rates are now higher. It doesn’t pump any additional funding toward the issue.
Some, like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, championed the declaration as a solid step forward.
Others, like U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the effort could leave other vital public health initiatives struggling.
Last year, opioid-related overdoses likely killed more than 62,000 people, or almost enough to fill Gillette Stadium, where the New England Patriots Play.
This year, Connecticut is on track to see more than 1,000 fatal overdoses. Experts continue to say the crisis likely will get worse before it gets better.
In Norwich, Partnership for Success grant coordinator Angela Duhaime said she likes the gist of Trump's declaration.
Duhaime, who spends her days trying to turn troubling numbers about student drug use into positive action, said it’s not uncommon for municipalities, nonprofits and service providers to hear funding is coming, but not see it for a prolonged period of time. She used December’s 21st Century Cures Act, which designated $1 billion in grants for states to fight the crisis, as an example.
“I think sometimes when we have crisis and throw money at it ... we get chaotic in figuring out who’s doing what,” she said, noting that she can only speak for Connecticut. “So we do have to think about redirection and making sure things are aligned, making sure that we’re not duplicating efforts.”
“Yes, it’s a public crisis,” she continued. “But it’s a long-term one. We want to be effective.”
Trump also mentioned Thursday the possibility of launching a campaign similar to the “Just Say No” initiative of the 1980s.
Duhaime said the idea could work — if the message is tailored.
Duhaime herself oversees a public messaging campaign dubbed “Norwich Unhooked.” In the summer, she described the effort as one that would target youth and other community members with a message that’s informative, not ominous.
“Not everyone is in the same situation,” she said Friday. “There are people who ‘Just Say No’ works for. It’s empowering for them. But sometimes that’s not the case and they need to hear there’s support” for the issues they’re struggling with.
Christa Beauchamp wears many hats when it comes to addressing addiction. She lives and breathes this issue: She has sat on a substance abuse task force in her hometown, Westerly; she's a mental health clinician who works in Lawrence + Memorial Hospital's inpatient psych unit; she's on the board of directors for Community Speaks Out and is a member of Shine a Light on Heroin.
She said her initial reaction to Trump's announcement was positive.
“It has been grossly lacking the attention it deserves,” she said of the opioid crisis. “Any declaration on the part of the U.S. government, I’m going to be happy with.”
Still, she said she's worried about the idea of reallocating resources. If money is put toward programs that are combating the crisis regardless of how successful they are, that may not help at all, she said.
Instead, Beauchamp would rather see resources delegated to recovery coaches, who demonstrably can help a person stay on track during the first six months of his or her recovery. She also thinks more funding should go toward evidence-based treatment — particularly options like naltrexone, or Vivitrol, that are less explored than methadone.
In sum, Trump’s declaration intends to:
- Boost opioid treatment in rural areas by increasing access to telemedicine and waiving a rule that requires people to see doctors in person to get prescriptions.
- Speed up the hiring process at the Department of Health and Human Services so more people are able to find help in states in need.
- Allow states to temporarily shift federal grant monies toward helping those fighting opioid addiction.
- Allow certain people struggling with or affected by opioid addiction to obtain Dislocated Worker Grants.
Beauchamp isn’t so sure about the telemedicine bit. Because Rhode Island and southeastern Connecticut likely aren't considered rural, she’s concerned the region could be neglected under the declaration.
“I just hope that we see an actual, concrete, solid example of this doing our area some good,” she said.
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