Patrick Kennedy: At least $100 billion needed to fight opioids

Patrick Kennedy: At least $100 billion needed to fight opioids
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Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, a member of the president’s opioid commission, is calling for a robust infusion of federal funds to combat the opioid epidemic, to the tune of $100 billion over 10 years.

In an interview with The Hill, Kennedy stressed he views that dollar figure “just as a starting point, at a minimum, minimum, minimum.”

His comments came a day after the release of a 131-page report from President Trump's six-member opioid commission that detailed 56 recommendations on how to curb the crisis. The document called for Congress to appropriate “sufficient funds” for the effort but didn’t name a specific dollar amount.

“It is not the Commission's charge to quantify the amount of these resources, so we do not do so in this report,” the report states. “The Commission urges Congress to respond to the President's declaration of a public health emergency and fulfill their constitutionally delegated duty and appropriate sufficient funds to implement the Commission's recommendations.”

Yet, Kennedy was clear that an appropriation must come in the form of billions of dollars, and at Wednesday’s opioid commission meeting, he mentioned a minimum of $10 billion at the national level — comments he expanded upon to The Hill.  

“If we don’t hear a minimum of a commitment to $100 billion or more over 10 years, we're just not even at start, we're not even at square one,” he told The Hill. Kennedy is a former Rhode Island Democratic congressman who is now a vocal advocate for mental health and addiction treatment.

Last week, Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency. The move didn’t unleash millions of dollars, nor did the president provide a specific funding request to Congress — drawing criticism from some advocates and Democratic lawmakers who said such a declaration won’t be effective without a substantial increase in federal dollars.

The public health emergency fund doesn’t have much money left — about $57,000, according to a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) official.  

“I hope — imminently — that we're going to get Congress to come up and say, ‘First we're going to replenish the fund, public health emergency fund within HHS’ — I'm hoping,” Kennedy said. “And that has to occur within a month or else all bets are off, and I’m saying it right here, a pox on all your houses if they don't do that.”

Kennedy had wanted the declaration of a national emergency done through the Stafford Act, and still would like to see Trump take that step. (Both emergencies can exist concurrently).

Stafford Act emergencies are typically used for natural disasters or terrorist attacks. The total amount of funding for this kind of emergency can’t exceed $5 million, though a declaration of a “major disaster” frees up more money.

The administration has been having conversations with Congress to secure more money, potentially in a year-end spending deal, a senior administration official said on a conference call with reporters. Last week, Senate Democrats introduced a bill to provide $45 billion over 10 years to fight the epidemic.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) helmed the president’s opioid commission and predicted Trump will initially ask for “billions of dollars to deal with this.”

“I think the president has got to sit down with Congress now and Congress has to put this money in,” he said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

Kennedy said the funding issue needs to be resolved quickly.

“I think he's got to come up with something, and come up with something soon, and can say that it's Congress's job to appropriate — and I agree with that — but it's the president's job to put something before them, and let Congress respond.”