Senate Democrats demand answers on opioid crisis efforts

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  • 19 Senate Democrats sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office
  • They took aim at the fact that no new money has been allocated to address the epidemic

(CNN)Saying the Trump administration has yet to offer any new funds to fight the growing opioid epidemic, some Senate Democrats are demanding answers about what the White House is doing to address the problem.

Though President Donald Trump declared it a public health emergency in October, the Democrats charge, little is known about the measures being taken to address the crisis that the government says resulted in an estimated 64,000 overdose deaths in 2016.
    "Given the severity of the crisis, we have grown increasingly concerned by reports that the President has done little to make use of his public health emergency declaration, leaving state and local communities without the resources they need to fight the opioid epidemic," says a letter signed by 19 Democrats that was sent Tuesday to the Government Accountability Office.
    The office is a nonpartisan government watchdog that investigates federal spending and performance. The senators took particular aim at the fact that no new money has been allocated "to address the epidemic, in spite of bipartisan calls from governors and legislators that it do so."
    They also sought accountability on what resources are available and the processes the administration is following to track its actions since declaring the public health emergency.
    In his State of the Union address Tuesday, Trump pledged that the issue remains a top domestic priority.
    "It is terrible. We have to do something," he said. "My administration is committed to fighting the drug epidemic and helping get treatment for those in need, for those who've been so terribly hurt. The struggle will be long and it will be difficult -- but, as Americans always do, in the end, we will succeed. We will prevail."
    Trump formed a bipartisan opioid commission in March to study the problem, and it came up with a list of 56 recommendations, including setting up nationwide drug courts to help place substance abusers into treatment rather than sending them into the prison system.
    But former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, one of six members of the commission, recently told CNN that the Republican-led Congress had turned its work into a "charade" and a "sham."
    He blasted Trump for not setting aside new money to tackle the crisis and took sharp aim at Congress for recent tax cuts, saying the country "would lose more money in a year than we could spend in a decade to solve this crisis."
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    "This and the administration's other efforts to address the epidemic are tantamount to reshuffling chairs on the Titanic," Kennedy said.
    "The emergency declaration has accomplished little, because there's no funding behind it. You can't expect to stem the tide of a public health crisis that is claiming over 64,000 lives per year without putting your money where your mouth is."