Federal Antidrug Resources Lag as Deaths Rise

While the Trump administration has made the opioid epidemic a priority, people die in record numbers from fentanyl, and health officials are struggling to provide treatment for tens of thousands more, the Washington Post reports. President Trump has taken steps to confront the crisis, stem the flow of fentanyl into the U.S. from China and Mexico, and step up prosecutions of traffickers. Congress also has increased spending on drug treatment. Experts say funding is not nearly enough. The depth of the problem continues to overwhelm the government’s response, and the administration has yet to produce a strategy required by Congress. John Walters, drug czar during the George W. Bush administration, said the administration is still struggling to confront the deadliest drug crisis in U.S. history and is not dedicating nearly enough resources.

In 2017, a record 28,869 people died from synthetic-opioid-related overdoses, a 46.4 percent increase from the year before. Most were from fentanyl, which is 50 times more powerful than heroin. Estimates for the first eight months of 2018 show that 20,537 more Americans died — a toll on pace to exceed the previous year’s. “The scale of death here is really unprecedented, and so you have to judge the response against the scale of the problem,” said Joshua Sharfstein of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “You can have some progress, but it’s really insufficient if you are not up to the scale of the problem.” Trump officials said they are making progress. “We didn’t get into this crisis overnight. We’re not going to get out overnight,” said presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway. Federal data document the 10 places with the highest per capita fentanyl-related overdose death rates: five counties in Ohio, two in West Virginia and one in Kentucky and the cities of Baltimore and St. Louis.

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