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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Trump declares opioid crisis a national public health emergency

The US president gave a speech in which he spoke about his brother Fred Jr who died from alcoholism

President Donald Trump declared a national public emergency to tackle the US opioid crisis. Carlos Barria/ Reuters
President Donald Trump declared a national public emergency to tackle the US opioid crisis. Carlos Barria/ Reuters

US president Donald Trump declared a national public health emergency on Thursday to tackle the opioid epidemic that is gripping the country.

In 2016 more than 64,000 people in the US died from drug overdoses, many of which were linked to opioid misuse.

Despite indicating he would, Mr Trump stopped short of declaring a national emergency on opioids, which would have meant federal funding was allocated directly to address the problem.

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However, the public health emergency will free up some funds as well as ease laws and regulations.

In a speech at the White House attended by families affected by drug abuse, Mr Trump said opioid addiction affected all parts of American society, while vowing to put a stop to the epidemic.

“No part of our society — not young or old, rich or poor, urban or rural — has been spared this plague of drug addiction and this horrible, horrible situation that’s taken place with opioids,” he said.

“This epidemic is a national health emergency.”

Mr Trump added: “We cannot allow this to continue. It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction.”

Going off script, the president told the story of his older brother Fred Trump Jr, who suffered with alcoholism and died in 1981 at the age of 43.

“He'd tell me don't drink,” Mr Trump said. “He was a strong guy but it was a tough, tough thing that he was going through. But I learned because of Fred.”

In the wide-ranging speech given in the East Room of the White House, the president repeated his election promise of building a wall with Mexico, which he said would cut off the supply of narcotics to the country.

“An astonishing 90 per cent of the heroin in America comes from south of the border where we will be building a wall,” Mr Trump said.

The Apprentice star spoke about the dangerous effects of the drug fentanyl, an opioid more than 50 to 100 times powerful than morphine. He said he would discuss stopping the flow of the drug from China with Chinese President Xi Jinping, when he visits Asia next month.

The president said the US Postal Service and Department of Homeland Security were “strengthening the inspection of packages coming into our country to hold back the flood of cheap and deadly fentanyl, a synthetic opioid manufactured in China.”

However, many Democratic lawmakers have been critical of the declaration because it did not commit any additional funds to the cause.

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy said in a statement: “The president’s talk is just that – talk. There is no action or new funding behind the president’s empty words to address this crisis. This is not acceptable.”