President Trump acknowledged the opioid overdose crisis last August, promising action.
The president took until last week to declare an emergency, nearly three months after announcing his intention to make the crisis official.
Government can and does move at a maddeningly slow pace, as bureaucrats talk about and debate the merits of first acknowledging a crisis, then deciding what to do about it. In the case of America’s opioid crisis, a delay of more than two and a half months may have cost thousands of Americans their lives.
Opioid overdose fatalities occur at the rate of about 100 a day, depending on whose data you use. Which means that the lag time between publicly admitting the drug problem, and then announcing an emergency may have been a factor in from 6,000 to 10,000 lives lost.
Those numbers and how many lives might have been saved are hypothetical. The truth is that opioids can be one of the most powerful forces a human faces, and many will not survive no matter how quickly or slowly a rescue operation is launched.
But we can’t help but wonder if a quick White House response might have saved many lives — if its chief resident weren’t so preoccupied with his twitter habit, and with meaningless issues like whether pro athletes stand, kneel, sit or fall down for the national anthem.
Here’s another way to look at this issue: Every three weeks, the number of opioid overdose deaths exceeds the number of Americans killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The 9/11 attacks provoked an almost immediate government response, and pushed America into a series of military conflicts in the Middle East.
Where is the sense of urgency from those who could, possibly, make a difference? Many may believe the lives of drug addicts aren’t as significant as the lives of workers in the Twin Towers and Pentagon, but that is a cruel, inhuman way to look at a national problem.
It’s not just an inner-city problem. Opioid abuse has spread its deadly shadow far beyond the suburbs and in fact, our own Central Coast has a major opioid problem. Santa Barbara County’s opioid-related death rate is nearly twice that of the state as a whole.
The problem is severe enough locally that sheriff’s deputies now carry applicators with naloxone, which can get an opioid overdoes victim breathing again, saving his or her life.
Skeptics also wonder about Trump invoking the ghosts of past leaders, by encouraging Americans, especially young people, to just say no to drugs. It didn’t do much good in the 1980s, and maybe it won’t do much good in the face of this latest drug crisis.
Or perhaps it will. Anyone who has lived through alcohol and/or drug addiction and cleaned up knows the wisdom of just saying no. Every successful recovering alcoholic and addict lives his or her life one day at a time. So do many hundreds of thousands of other recovering people across the country. It’s about taking responsibility for your own actions.
A new drug war on a personal level could work, but not in the manner President Trump has proposed. For one thing, his plan comes without a means of financing such change. In fact, the White House’s 2018 budget proposal calls for slashing funding to fight the opioid epidemic by nearly $100 million.
Congress can fix that glaring omission, but not without a fight. Big spending on a new program means taking money from other programs. That debate needs to start — now.