President Donald Trump declared the opioid abuse epidemic ravaging the country a national health emergency at an event today, calling it the “worst drug crisis” to strike the country. Alaska was well-represented at the event.
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, was one of six governors invited to the signing of the declaration in Washington, D.C., this afternoon, along with Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan. Walker was seated in the audience and could be seen in the White House livestream as Trump departed.
The announcement is likely to capture headlines for Trump’s statements that he’s never had a drink or smoked a cigarette and for falling short of a national emergency declaration, but it’ll make some material changes aimed at combating opioid abuse.
The New York Times explains how it’ll work: “It would allow some grant money to be used for an array of efforts to combat opioid abuse and would ease certain laws and regulations to address it.”
In what appeared to be an earnest call to unity, Trump called on the country to work together to combat opioid abuse in its many forms.
“Each of us have a responsibility to this effort. We have a total responsibility to ourselves, to our family, to our country, including those who are struggling with this addiction,” he said. “Each of us is responsible to look out for our loved ones, our communities, our children, our neighbors, and our own health. Almost every American has witnessed the horrors of addiction, whether it’s through their own struggle, or through the struggle of a friend, a coworker, a neighbor or, frankly, a family member.”
Trump also stayed away from making over-ambitious promises about the fight, noting it “will take many years and even decades” to address substance abuse and that things will likely get worse before they get better.
The country’s opioid crisis is already severe with an average 90 people dying from overdoses every day. In 2016, 128 people in Alaska died due to drug overdoses with a majority being from opioids.
Walker declared the opioid epidemic a statewide disaster in February, enacting a number of measures to make anti-overdose drugs more widely available and updating the prescribing practices for opioids to cut down on abuse of prescription pain pills.
“I welcome this announcement by President Trump and thank his administration for taking this important action,” Governor Walker said in a prepared statement. “The opioid and heroin epidemic has destroyed too many lives, and torn apart families and communities. In Alaska, we saw opioid-related deaths quadruple in six years. That’s why I issued a declaration of disaster in response to Alaska’s opioid epidemic, and introduced and signed life-saving legislation. Building a Safer Alaska is one of my top priorities.”
Alaska’s congressional delegation, Sen. Dan Sullivan in particular, have also been particularly active on the issue of opioid abuse and addiction. He thanked the president for his action in a prepared statement, but noted that additional funding will be needed to address opioid abuse.
“I want to thank the President for declaring a public health emergency concerning the opioid epidemic,” he said. “I applaud the flexibility and authority granted to federal agencies to address the epidemic, though we cannot effectively combat the crisis without additional funding. I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Senate and House to provide more resources to the people on the ground, as well as states and local governments who are closer to the people. This crisis effects everyone, either directly or someone they know and love. We need to work together to fight the scourge of addiction.”