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Trump to formalize opioid emergency next week; vows to review drug czar pick


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Trump to formalize opioid emergency next week; vows to review drug czar pick

President Donald Trump Oct. 16 said he would officially declare the U.S. opioid crisis a national emergency next week — a step he promised to take more than two months ago.

Trump also told reporters he would take another look at his nominee to lead the National Drug Control Policy, Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., who came under fire after an investigation by The Washington Post and CBS' "60 Minutes" revealed a law the congressman sponsored weakened the authority of the Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, to rein in distributors selling large numbers of opioid pills to rogue pharmacies and doctors.

The probe also found that Marino and the bill's House co-sponsor Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Senate author Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, each had received more than $100,000 in political contributions from the drug industry while the DEA legislation, enacted last year, was being considered by Congress.

Trump said he was aware of the Post-"60 Minutes" report and said "we're going to take it very seriously."

"If I think it's 1% negative to doing what we want to do, I will make a change, yes," Trump said.

But he also called Marino "a great guy" and "a good man," noting the Pennsylvania Republican was one of Trump's early supporters.

On the Senate floor, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he found it "profoundly troubling" that Trump would tap Marino to be the primary point person to stop the opioid crisis after his legislation made it "virtually impossible for the DEA to freeze suspicious narcotic shipments."

He called on Trump to withdraw Marino's nomination.

Confirming Marino to be the nation's drug czar "is like putting the wolf in charge of the henhouse," Schumer charged. "The American people deserve someone totally committed to fighting the opioid crisis, not someone who has labored on behalf of the drug industry."

Schumer's demand followed that of fellow Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, whose home state of West Virginia has been plagued by the U.S. opioid crisis.

In an Oct. 16 letter to the White House, Manchin said Marino "no longer has my trust or that of the public that he will aggressively pursue the fight against opioid abuse."

"During the biggest public health crisis since HIV/AIDS, we need someone leading the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy who believes we must protect our people, not the pharmaceutical industry," he added.

Manchin also introduced legislation to repeal the Marino-Hatch bill.

Major announcement

Asked why he had not moved on his Aug. 10 pledge to declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency — a recommendation that came in late July from a White House commission headed up by Republican Gov. Chris Christie — Trump said he would have a "major announcement, probably next week, on the drug crisis and on the opioid massive problem."

"I want to get that absolutely right," Trump said.

"Frankly, the world has a drug problem, but we have it, and we're going to do something about it."

Making the declaration official, which would ensure that more federal funding was funneled toward addressing the opioid epidemic, is a "big step," Trump said, insisting "people have no understanding" of the importance of making such a move.

"A lot of work has to be done and it's time-consuming work," Trump said.

For weeks, the White House has said Trump's request to make the opioid crisis a national emergency was under legal review and declined to provide a timeline as to when that examination would be completed.

At a Sept. 27 meeting, Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, or NIH, told the White House commission that government and industry must allocate more funding if they are serious about addressing the nation's opioid crisis at the pace it needs to be tackled.

Collins joined a panel of drug industry representatives to urge the administration to step in to get insurers on board with providing better reimbursement for nonaddictive alternatives to opioids and covering addiction treatment.

Former Democratic Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy, a member of the White House opioid commission, said it was time for the biopharmaceutical and insurance industries to own the responsibility of the epidemic.

Collins has been waiting since late May for drug companies to officially sign on to partner in an NIH initiative aimed at accelerating the development of nonaddictive alternatives to opioids and better overdose-reversal agents to address the current epidemic in the U.S.

"This crisis has gotten so large and pervasive that it's simply beyond the scope of any one of our agencies to make a meaningful impact," Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told lawmakers at an Oct. 5 Capitol Hill hearing. "It's only in partnership that we're going to slowly reverse the trend and help move more people towards a life of sobriety."