Trump drug policy director touts first decline in overdose-related deaths in 30 years

Jim Carroll, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said Friday that the United States has seen a drop in drug overdose deaths for the first time in nearly three decades.

“[For the] first time in almost 30 years, we’ve seen a decline in the number of Americans dying from an overdose — it’s a 5 percent reduction,” Carroll, who was appointed by President Trump in 2018, told Hill.TV.

“It’s a result of everything — it’s working on the supply of drugs that are coming in but it’s also working on demand. It’s getting more people into treatment and it’s spreading the message on prevention,” he added.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 70,237 people died of a drug overdose in 2017, with synthetic opioids such as fentanyl being the main driver behind those deaths. On average, the CDC estimates that 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. 

The states with the highest rates of drug overdoses in 2017 were West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia and Kentucky.

In response to the opioid epidemic, some states that have been particularly ravaged have started programs to address the issue head-on.

Carroll offered praise for local officials in Huntington, W.Va., who have tried to move the issue away from incarceration. Rather than arresting users with illicit drugs, the city has created a quick response team (QRT), which Carroll said has made a “big difference” in the community at large.

Modeled after a QRT in Ohio, the group is made up of medical care provides, law enforcement officials and recovery providers. Together, they offer education and treatment to substance users who have overdosed within the previous 24 to 72 hours.

“We really need to put our arms around these people who have an addiction and say, ‘We’re here to help, we’re going to deal with the problems that you have and we’re going to treat you as an individual,’ ” Carroll said.

Trump has made combating the opioid crisis one of his signature issues. After declaring the nation’s opioid crisis a public health emergency, the president signed the Substance Use–Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act. The bipartisan legislation directs funding to federal agencies and states to help expand access to addiction treatment.

The president has also made the epidemic part of his push for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, even though most illicit drugs come from legal ports of entry.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics, 89,207 pounds of cocaine were seized along the border along with 5,427 pounds of heroin, 68,585 pounds of methamphetamine and 2,545 of fentanyl.

Carroll said the U.S. needs to better secure its southern border, predicting that the number of seizures will go up even more. 

“Border patrol has been able to focus in on what they’re supposed to do — it says on their patch, ‘border patrol’ that’s what they need to do, now that they’re back doing that, that the humanitarian part of that is over, we’re seeing seizures come up,” he said.

Last summer, border patrol authorities faced a record influx of undocumented immigrants at the southern border, topping 144,000 at one point

—Tess Bonn

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