US & Canada

Trump urged to declare national emergency over opioid crisis

heroin Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 1999, the commission found

President Donald Trump's commission to tackle opioid drug abuse is urging him to declare a national emergency.

In a draft report, the cross-party group of lawmakers argue that doing so would force officials to prioritise attention and funding to the issue.

"With approximately 142 Americans dying every day, America is enduring a death toll equal to September 11th every three weeks", the authors write.

One third of Americans were prescribed opioids in 2015, the group found.

President Trump made addressing drug abuse a central campaign promise.

The report also recommends that doctors curb excessive prescriptions of opioid medications, and improve access to pain management treatment techniques.

The Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis referenced the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on 11 September 2001 to describe how the entire government subsequently rallied around the common cause of protecting American lives.

Since 1999, the number of deaths involving opioids have quadrupled, the commission wrote, citing data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Addressing Mr Trump, the commission explains: "Your declaration would empower your cabinet to take bold steps and would force Congress to focus on funding and empowering the Executive Branch even further to deal with this loss of life."

"It would also awaken every American to this simple fact: if this scourge has not found you or your family yet, without bold action by everyone, it soon will."

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionThe grandparents' burden: 'We don't resent the kids - but life's hard'

"You, Mr President, are the only person who can bring this type of intensity to the emergency and we believe you have the will to do so and to do so immediately."

The commission, which is chaired by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, also says that doctors must come up with novel ways to treat the approximately 100 million adult Americans (according to a report by the Institute of Medicine) who suffer from chronic pain.

But researchers find that doctors are unfamiliar with best practices when dealing with pain, and are often tempted to turn to opioid-based medications such as Percocet and OxyContin.

Last week, a doctor in the state of Indiana was shot and killed by the husband of his female patient after refusing to prescribe her opioids for her pain.

Patients who are no longer receiving opioids as medication sometimes turn to street drugs such as heroin, which in many cities is cheaper than beer.

Heroin, police officers find, is often laced with fentanyl, a powerful opioid that has been blamed for many overdose deaths.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionThe heroin-ravaged city fighting back

The commission also recommends increased access to Naloxone, an emergency antidote nasal spray that can reverse overdoses.

They also call for funding for drug-monitoring programmes, in order to ensure that patients are not stockpiling their medication or reselling it.

It remains to be seen if Mr Trump will act on the commission's recommendations. The full report will be released in October.

More on the US drugs crisis

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionAmerica's new generation of addicts

As an open-air heroin camp is closed, options narrow

More on this story