Thursday March 21, 2019

US Opioid Crisis : Deaths in 2016 from Drug Overdose ‘Highest in American History’, Says US Attorney General

Sessions said President Donald Trump's campaign pledge to end the opioid crisis remains a priority for his administration

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DRUG OVERDOSE
A bag of 4-fluoroisobutyrylfentanyl, which was seized in a drug arrest, is displayed at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Testing and Research Laboratory in Sterling, Va., Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)(VOA)

Washington, September 22, 2017 : U.S. deaths from drug overdose set a record of more than 64,000 in 2016, driven by an intractable opioid crisis, U.S. Attorney General said Thursday, citing preliminary government data.

Provisional data released last month by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) showed that there were 64,070 drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2016, up 21 percent from 52,898 the year before.

The NCHS is an arm of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The 2016 estimate “would be the highest drug death toll and the fastest increase in that death toll in American history,” Sessions said. “And every day this crisis continues to grow, as more than 5,000 Americans abuse painkillers for the first time.”

Opioids such as heroin and the synthetic drug fentanyl were responsible for most of the fatal overdoses, killing more than 33,000 Americans — quadruple the number from 20 years ago.

drug overdose
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington (VOA)

“More Americans died of drug overdose than died from car crashes or died from AIDS at the height of the AIDS epidemic,” Sessions said. “For Americans under the age of 50, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death.”

Sessions spoke at an event in Charleston, West Virginia, a state with the highest drug overdose rate in the country. In 2015, West Virginia reported more than 41 overdose deaths per 100,000 people, compared with a national average of 16 per 100,000, according to NCHS data.

Sessions said President Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to end the opioid crisis remains a priority for his administration.

“I believe that the department’s new resources and new efforts will bring more criminals to justice, and ultimately save lives,” Sessions said. “And I’m convinced this is a winnable war.”

In March, Trump named New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a former presidential candidate, to head the newly formed President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.

Last month, the commission urged the administration to declare the opioid crisis a national emergency.

“With approximately 142 Americans dying every day, America is enduring a death toll equal to September 11th every three weeks,” the commission said in an interim report.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said that no declaration was necessary to combat the crisis, but White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later said Trump was taking the idea “absolutely seriously.” (VOA)

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White House in Support of Trump’s National Emergency Declaration

Trump said he declared the national emergency because he was unhappy with the amount of money Congress authorized.

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Auto industry, tariffs
Some trade organizations also blasted the Commerce Department for keeping the details of its "Section 232" national security report shrouded in secrecy. VOA

The White House is defending President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border as multiple states prepare to file legal challenges and Democrats in Congress plan to vote their disapproval.

“He could choose to ignore this crisis, but he chose not to,” Trump adviser Stephen Miller, an immigration hardliner, told Fox News Sunday.

Miller assailed former Republican President George W. Bush for what he called an “astonishing betrayal” of the U.S. nearly two decades ago when four times as many immigrants were illegally entering the United States as now. But Miller said the “bottom line” is that “you cannot conceive of a strong nation without a secure border.”

He said Trump’s action is “defending our own borders.” He illegal immigration “is a threat in our country.”

Miller said Trump’s actions were justified under a 1976 law giving presidents authority to declare national emergencies, although none of the 59 declared since then has involved instances when a president has attempted to override congressional refusal to approve funding for a specific proposal.

Trump declared the national emergency on Friday to circumvent Congress, which had refused his request for $5.7 billion in wall funding, even as it approved $1.375 billion for barriers along about 90 kilometers of the 3,200-kilometer border. Trump plans to tap more than $8 billion in government funds authorized for other projects the build the wall, although lawsuits challenging the action are already being filed to block his transfer of money.

US, Donald Trump, National Emergency, White house
Border Patrol agent Vincent Pirro looks on near a border wall that separates the cities of Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego, Feb. 5, 2019, in San Diego. VOA

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra told ABC’s This Week that his state and others would “definitely and imminently” file a legal challenge, arguing that people all over the United States would be harmed by Trump’s move because the diverted money would not be spent on needed services.

“Typically our presidents have focused on issues where the national interests are clearly at stake,” Becerra said about previous national emergency declarations. “The national interests are not at stake here. We have the lowest level of entries into the country by those who don’t have permission than we’ve had in some 20 years.”

Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said he thinks he has “a lot of discretion” in deciding which funds previously allocated for defense needs can instead be used to build a border wall. “You can trust the numbers in terms of the potential. Then you gotta marry it up with where the money would be spent.” But he said money designated for military housing would not be spent on the wall.

Trump said he declared the national emergency because he was unhappy with the amount of money Congress authorized.

“I want to do it faster,” he said. “I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn’t need to do this. But I’d rather do it much faster.”

Trump’s staunchest critics, including Democrats who have announced they are running against him next year and other lawmakers, have attacked his national emergency declaration as an end-run around the constitutional provision that U.S. funding authorization lies with Congress and noted that he said that he did not need to take action.

US, Donald Trump, National Emergency, White House
Trump declared the national emergency on Friday to circumvent Congress, which had refused his request for $5.7 billion in wall funding. VOA

Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN, “If we give away, if we surrender the power of the purse… there will be little check and no balance left. It’ll not be a separation of powers anymore, just a separation of parties.”

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Journalist Bob Woodward, who chronicled the first year of the Trump presidency in a best-selling book called “Fear,” told Fox News he believes Trump made the national emergency declaration because “he looks strong. He looks tough to lots of people.”

Trump centered much of his successful 2016 campaign for the White House on a vow to build the wall and make Mexico pay for it. He long since abandoned direct payment from Mexico, when its leaders rejected the idea, and instead sought congressional approval of the U.S. taxpayer funding. (VOA)