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Huntington mayor continues calls for national opioid emergency declaration

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The mayor of Huntington is “a bit perplexed” by President Donald Trump’s decision to not declare a national emergency in the opioid crisis as his own Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis has recommended.

Huntington Mayor Steve Williams

“There’s a recommendation on one hand and then it’s a rebuffing of that recommendation and we would encourage the President and those in Congress to be encouraging the President that we need to have a very aggressive effort,” Mayor Steve Williams said.

Such a declaration could clear the way for quicker government action on a number of fronts since it allows certain government restrictions and rules to be lifted like those limiting where Medicaid recipients can receive addiction treatment.

On Tuesday, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said a declaration is usually reserved for “a time-limited problem.” He cited the Zika outbreak as one example.

“We believe, at this point, that the resources that we need or the focus that we need to bring to bear to the opioid crisis can be addressed without the declaration of the emergency,” Price said Tuesday in Bedminster, New Jersey.

He added that “all things are on the table” for President Trump.

“The best way to prevent drug addiction and overdose is to prevent people from abusing drugs in the first place,” President Trump said during a Tuesday briefing.

“If they don’t start, they won’t have a problem. If they do start, it’s awfully tough to get off.”

Williams, a candidate for U.S. House in West Virginia’s 3rd District, said issues of addiction are much more complicated than that.

“When we hear the repeating of the 1980s-era ‘Just Say No’ that, we think history has shown, is just not enough,” he told MetroNews. “This (addiction) is not a moral failing. This is a disease and we need to be able to treat it as such.”

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie leads the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. It was created in March to study ways “to combat and treat the scourge of drug abuse, addiction, and the opioid crisis.”

Earlier this month, the Commission issued its draft interim report ahead of the release of a final report later this year.

In general, the draft report included the following recommendations for addressing drug addiction across the United States, including addictions to opioids:

— Grant waiver approval to increase treatment capacity
— Mandate prescriber education training
— Create and fund an initiative to improve treatment program access
— Provide states with model legislation to allow dispensing naloxone, such as Narcan
— Permit the development of fentanyl detection sensors to provide to federal, state, local and tribal agencies
— Support state efforts in prescription drug monitoring programs
— Reconsider patient privacy laws that limit information accessible to medical providers
— Ensure those with mental health and addiction diagnoses are provided equal benefits to those with physical diagnoses.

“We welcome and agree with all of the findings of the commission,” Williams said.

Those recommendations largely echoed recommendations developed by the National League of Cities and National Association of Counties Opiate Task Force which Williams served on alongside Mercer County Commissioner Greg Puckett.

Only a recommendation for alternatives to incarceration were left off the list from the President’s Commission.

“We agreed that you have to have aggressive law enforcement, but we also know that it’s not a contradiction to have aggressive law enforcement but also having alternatives to incarceration.”

Those alternatives, Williams argued, can help reduce recidivism.

Williams said the push for a national emergency declaration was not at an end. “He’ll continue to hear from us local leaders of the cities and counties,” he pledged.

In 2015, West Virginia had the highest overdose death rate in the United States.

In May, Price visited Charleston to talk about the opioid epidemic with policymakers from both the state and federal levels along with representatives from several organizations.

U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions was in the Capital City in May as well to address the federal Drug Enforcement Administration’s 360 Strategy Summit at the University of Charleston.

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