- The Washington Times - Monday, December 4, 2017

Deadly overdoses are just the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to the opioids crisis, Trump administration officials argued Monday, saying that for every person who dies, there are dozens more hooked on prescription drugs or heroin.

Opioid abuse contributed to more than 33,000 deaths in 2015 — a toll that likely rose last year, according to preliminary estimates, as deadly fentanyl floods the heroin market.

For every person who died from an opioid overdose in 2015, there were 18 more Americans with a heroin problem, 62 people abusing prescription opioids and 337 people who had misused an opioid at some point over the course of the year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Officials said the most daunting aspect of the crisis is the sheer number of people who are addicted and need help.

“We’re already in a state of crisis right now, and I think that’s the most difficult thing about it,” said Eric Hargan, acting secretary at the Health and Human Services Department.

Mr. Hargan said HHS will use President Trump’s donated salary to devise a “large-scale” awareness campaign about the dangers of opioids abuse.

The $100,000 check from Mr. Trump’s quarterly pay will help the agency plan and launch the campaign, which will use personal stories to get Americans to think twice about getting hooked on prescription drugs and heroin in the first place.

Mr. Trump declared a public health emergency around the opioids problem in October.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have praised Mr. Trump for highlighting the crisis, though Democrats have criticized him for failing to demand a specific amount of taxpayer money to combat the problem.

Senate Democrats want to spend $45 billion over 10 years, saying it’s the same amount Senate Republicans and Mr. Trump were willing to spend on the fight as part of their Obamacare replacement plan, which failed in July.

Republican negotiators and the administration say they’re still settling on a final amount, as end-of-year spending talks unfold.

“We’re looking forward to hearing from Congress on how they intend to address this,” said Mr. Hargan, noting lawmakers had previously floated numbers in the tens of billions.

In the meantime, Cabinet officials said they are taking steps to expand treatment or understand the scope of the opioids problem.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it is working with local entities and coroners to get more timely data on overdose deaths.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said that since Mr. Trump’s declaration, two states — Utah and New Jersey — have secured Medicaid waivers that allow them to expand treatment for opioids addiction at residential treatment facilities.

“When the president says, ‘Focus,’ we focus,” Mr. Hargan said.

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