'Nothing is going to stop us': Trump touts progress in opioid crisis fight

President promises to hold drugmakers accountable at drug abuse and heroin summit, despite skepticism from health researchers

Donald Trump has claimed progress in the fight against opioid abuse and promised to hold drugmakers accountable for their part in a crisis that kills thousands of Americans each year.

Trump spoke a day after his administration brought its first related criminal charges against a major drug distributor and company executives, and sin spite of skepticism from many health researchers.

“We are holding big pharma accountable,” Trump said in Atlanta, at the eighth annual prescription drug abuse and heroin summit.

Attending the event with his wife, Melania, Trump spoke for about 45 minutes and veered considerably off topic a number of times, to discuss a wall on the US-Mexico border, border patrol dogs and election rigging.

He promised the crowd of lawmakers, law enforcement officers, advocates and healthcare officials: “Nothing is going to stop us. We will never stop until our job is done. We will succeed.” Trump said the government had dedicated $6bn to fight the opioid epidemic.

But he got the loudest cheers from the audience when he referenced faith-based initiatives. Much of the speech revolved around praising law enforcement, the Drug Enforcement Agency and Customs and Border Protection.

On Tuesday, the government charged Rochester Drug Co-operative and company executives for their role in fueling the US opioids crisis, where widespread and often inappropriate prescribing of powerful opioid prescription painkillers over the last two decades helped lead to an addiction epidemic.

The company agreed to pay $20m and enter a deferred prosecution agreement to resolve charges it turned a blind eye to thousands of suspicious orders for opioid pain killers.

Deaths from opioid overdose in the United States in 2017 jumped 17% from a year earlier to more than 49,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Deaths from potent synthetic opioids such as fentanyl surged 45% in that time, according to the CDC.

Thousands of lawsuits by US state and local governments accuse drugmakers such as Purdue Pharma, which makes the painkiller OxyContin, of deceptively marketing opioids, and distributors such as AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson of ignoring that they were being diverted for improper uses.

Trump said he convinced the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, in a December meeting in Argentina to designate fentanyl as a controlled substance.

“Almost all fentanyl comes from China,” Trump said. “They are going to make it a major crime.”

Little has come of Trump’s earlier calls for executing drug dealers. One of the first lawmakers to address the crisis unfolding in his backyard, the Republican congressman Hal Rogers of Kentucky, has previously warned the president: “We can’t arrest our way out of the problem.”

Many places have urged a “help not handcuffs” approach to dealing with those who have developed an opioid addiction, whether through being prescribed opioids or abusing an opioid.

Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in October 2017.

The Democratic National Committee said in a statement before Trump’s remarks that his proposed Medicaid cuts and efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, could make the opioid problem worse.

“There are some positive signs, but I don’t believe the Trump administration deserves credit for them,” Dr Andrew Kolodny, the co-director of opioid policy research at Brandeis University, told CNBC last month after the government touted progress in the crisis.

“In fact, there is a lot more the Trump administration and the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] could be doing to promote more cautious prescribing and properly regulating opioid makers.”


Khushbu Shah in Atlanta and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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