ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, President Donald Trump asserted his commitment to fighting the opioid epidemic and improving access to addiction treatment. But critics say the White House has done very little to address the issue so far.
"Never before has it been like it is now. It is terrible – we have to do something about it," Trump said of the crisis. "The struggle will be long and difficult. But, as Americans always do, in the end we will succeed. We will prevail."
In October 2017, Trump declared the opioid crisis a national emergency at the recommendation of his recently appointed opioid commission. The declaration spurred hope that new federal funding would be made available, but critics say that has not been the case.
According to a CNN report from earlier this month, former Democratic Senator Patrick Kennedy, who serves as a member of the White House opioid commission, said the administration has done little to combat opioid abuse, because no new funding has been allocated.
One local addiction support group, Fiend 2 Clean, confirms that they haven't noticed a difference in funding from the feds. However, the group says the emergency declaration has had at least one positive impact.
"With the president's State of the Union address, it brings to light an issue that has always been in the back of people’s minds," said James Savage, program director of Fiend 2 Clean. "It brings it back to the forefront and back into discussion with lawmakers and policy makers, in an effort to help curve some of the opioid addiction and the issues that we're seeing in our communities nationwide."
Trump's State of the Union remarks were also commended by Alaska’s senators, who recently signed a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration seeking to expand existing law to allow for addiction treatment in rural areas via telemedicine.
"Importantly, the President focused on the opioid crisis and the epidemic," said Sen. Dan Sullivan in a video posted to his YouTube page. "He mentioned the statistic that last year 64,000 Americans were killed through overdoses and addiction – a lot of it opioids and heroin."
Sullivan also stressed the need to make more resources available for fighting the opioid epidemic.
"If we had 64,000 Americans killed by say Ebola, we'd be spending a lot of money on it. I believe that we need to dedicate a lot of resources to that [opioid epidemic]," he said.
Shortly before the government shutdown, the U.S. Department of Health and Social Services renewed the president’s emergency declaration for another 90 days. It is currently set to expire on April 23.