In 2016, an estimated 50,000 Americans lost their lives to the opioid epidemic, according to the CDC’s preliminary figures.
That’s more than the number of Americans that died during the worst year of the AIDS crisis or the number of American troops killed in combat in Vietnam.
In response to the growing crisis, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Wednesday that President Trump has asked White House counselor Kellyanne Conway to become the opioids czar.
She will “coordinate and lead the effort from the White House” to solve the problem of opioid overdoses, Sessions said.
Opioid policy expert Andrew Kolodny of Brandeis University told BuzzFeed News that the Trump administration has yet to name someone to head its Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), or released a strategy to combat the crisis, or requested any money from Congress to fill the depleted national public health emergency fund — now down to $66,000 — to pay for its health emergency declaration.
“Stemming overdose deaths will take a broad interagency approach led by someone with a singular focus and extensive knowledge of the drivers of — and solutions to — the epidemic,” former ONDCP official Regina LaBelle told BuzzFeed News by email. “Therefore, a Senate confirmed Director of National Drug Control Policy should lead this effort.”
“It’s a national emergency — let’s treat it like one,” she said.