July 25, 2018

Warren Delivers Floor Speech on Trump Opioid Emergency Declaration

"The President has made a lot of promises about the opioid crisis. But time and time again, this President has broken his promises."

Video (YouTube)

Washington, DC - In a floor speech delivered today on the Senate floor, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) discussed President Trump's failure to prioritize and adequately address the opioid crisis, nine months after he originally declared the epidemic a public health emergency.  In her remarks, Senator Warren highlighted President Trump's lack of meaningful action and proposed a number of steps his Administration could take now to tackle the crisis.

The full text of her remarks is available below.

Remarks by Senator Elizabeth Warren
July 25, 2018

This week we hit a milestone - but not the kind of milestone you celebrate. Nearly one year ago the commission appointed by President Trump to examine the opioid crisis recommended that the President declare a national public health emergency to help combat the epidemic. The commission, led by former Republican Governor Chris Christie, said, and I quote here, "The first and most urgent recommendation of this Commission is direct and completely within your control. Declare a national emergency."

Yeah, but the President dragged his feet. And while he twiddled his thumbs, thousands of Americans continued to die from drug overdoses - over 115 people a day. Finally, in October 2017, the President formally declared what we already knew - that the crisis was a public health emergency worthy of federal action.

The first declaration that the President issued lasted for ninety days. But during those ninety days, nothing changed. The President didn't take action. And Americans continued to suffer and more people died- day after day, after day.   

On January 24th, 2018, the first emergency declaration expired, so the President had his HHS Secretary sign a second one. Then, before another ninety days ran out on April 24th, the Administration signed a third. Yesterday, another ninety days later - on July 24th, 2018 - we began the fourth consecutive period of public health emergency due to the opioid crisis.

Nine months since the original declaration. Nine months within which more than 30,000 people have likely overdosed and died - all while the President and his Administration gave us a lot of talk but no action.

Our communities are on the front line of this epidemic - and they are working hard to fight back. But they can't do it alone. They need funding, support, and new tools.

I've worked with my Democratic colleagues to make sure communities have what they need in this fight. Time and again, we've pressured congressional leadership for additional funding to help states and local communities address this epidemic.

And the pressure has worked. I've secured millions of dollars not just for opioid addiction and prevention and treatment, but for increased mental health services, including the biggest increase in funding for the Community Mental Health Block Grant in history. I've passed bipartisan legislation to reduce the number of unused opioids sitting in medicine cabinets. Once that legislation became law, I continued to work across the aisle with Senator Capito to make sure it was actually being implemented - we're still working on that today. And I've introduced legislation to send $100 billion in extra resources to fight this epidemic - send that money right to the communities and tribes that need the help the most.

I'm in this fight because communities in Massachusetts and all across the country deserve it.

But President Trump? He's not in this fight. The President has made a lot of promises about the opioid crisis. But time and  again, this President has broken his promises.

Take the first time he declared the crisis an emergency. The President held a big event, talked a big game, and then he produced no tangible plan and no new commitment of federal money - beyond meager funds left over from responding to other public health emergencies and disasters.

Declaring the crisis a national emergency was the top recommendation of the President's opioid commission. But it wasn't the only recommendation. The commission's final report included 56 recommendations that they asked the Administration and Congress to implement as soon as possible. Nearly all of those recommendations required the involvement and leadership of this Administration.

So what has come of those 56 recommendations? Who knows! At best, maybe-maybe- a few have been implemented. The majority just seem to have been ignored.

Even members of the Commission itself have called out this Administration's shameful lack of action. Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy stated that the Commission's work has been turned into "a charade" and a "sham."

Why is the Trump Administration refusing to take this crisis seriously? Why?

To start, it doesn't help that the Administration has put people in charge of addressing this emergency who lack relevant experience in public health or addiction.

Kellyanne Conway is apparently running the show - but she's also apparently running multiple other shows at the same time. Not only is the opioid crisis not Ms. Conway's full time responsibility - but she has also reportedly pushed aside drug policy experts and made comments about addiction that are not evidence-based. James Carroll, President Trump's nominee to run the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) also appears to have no experience in public or behavioral health policy.

And let's not forget - ONDCP is the agency that President Trump has essentially proposed eliminating - by cutting 95 percent of its funding. This is also the agency with such high staff turnover that earlier this year, a 24-year-old with no public health experience was promoted to Deputy Chief of Staff - while the position of Chief of Staff remained unfilled. And this agency that has not released its required annual drug strategy for the past two years running.

Now, that's a lot. But as if that's not enough, the Trump Administration has taken repeated steps to undermine the very programs that are critical to fighting the opioid crisis.

The President tried to slash health care coverage for millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions - conditions like addiction issues. He's tried to cut hundreds of millions of dollars out of Medicaid-Medicaid-which provides coverage for two out of every five nonelderly adults with an opioid addiction.

He has proposed slashing funding for health workforce programs, for the Prevention and Public Health Fund, and for mental health programs that are all critical to addressing this epidemic.

I've asked the Administration time after time after time; I've asked them to explain the work they are supposedly doing on this crisis. I've asked John Kelly for clarification about Kellyanne Conway's role. No response. I've asked Ms. Conway directly about her role. No response. And I've asked the Administration about their progress on implementing the Opioid Commission's recommendations. No response.

To me, it looks like a whole bunch of nothing. Just empty words and broken promises.

And while the President plugs his ears and closes his eyes, Americans are dying. 42,000 people died of drug overdoses in this country in 2016. From July 2016 to September 2017, across the country, emergency room visits for opioid overdoses on average jumped 30 percent. But only one in ten individuals in need of specialty addiction treatment are actually able to access it.

There is no shortage of steps that we could take right now to tackle this crisis. We've confronted large-scale public health crises before - and we've made a difference.

Back in the 1980s, the death toll from a poorly-understood and stigmatized disease grew larger and larger. For years, the federal government refused to act as Americans died. That disease was HIV/AIDS. But activists and their loved ones demanded action. And in 1990, the federal government finally made a meaningful investment by passing the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act.

Today, the AIDS epidemic isn't over, but HIV is no longer a death sentence. And thanks to the Ryan White Act, everyone who needs treatment and support can get it, regardless of their ability to pay.

So I've introduced legislation with Representative Elijah Cummings modeled on the Ryan White CARE Act to apply this very successful model to fighting the opioid epidemic. The Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency Act would invest $100 billion over the next ten years to ensure that every single person dealing with addiction can get the help they need. Period.

If President Trump wants to prioritize this problem and make a difference in the opioid epidemic, he could do it. He has the power. He could implement his own commission's recommendations. He could send meaningful budget requests to Congress. He could appoint qualified, hard-working people to tackle the problem.

But he won't do any of those things. He's all talk and no action, and while he keeps extending meaningless emergency declarations, Americans are dying. People with addiction and their families deserve more. Our communities demand more. It's time to stop nibbling around the edges and get to work on this problem.