Several people said they never expected to see a president of the United States needing to talk about how the government was planning to fight the country’s opioid epidemic.
But on Thursday, President Donald Trump said his administration would tackle the public health emergency from several angles, including reducing the amount of fentanyl being shipped from China to educating youth about the dangers associated with drugs.
Butler County health and public safety officials, a drug crisis specialist and a mother who lost a daughter to a heroin overdose applauded President Trump for declaring the opioid crisis a national public health emergency, but some thought he should have declared it a national emergency, a move that would have earmarked federal funds to local agencies.
Dorothy McIntosh-Shuemake, whose daughter, Alison “Allie” Shuemake, 18, died from a heroin overdose two years ago, listened Thursday afternoon to Trump’s White House briefing on her phone. She was “a little disappointed” the opioid crisis wasn’t declared a national emergency by the president. Then she decided saying it was a public health emergency was the “good way to deal” with the epidemic.
“Maybe now more resources will be devoted to it,” she said. “I’m glad that he’s talking about it. Maybe this will start changing peoples’ minds about what it; ease some of the stigma.”
Middletown City Manager Doug Adkins started a Heroin Summit two years ago in response to the epidemic. Recently, the city has seen a sharp decrease in the number of overdoses and the amount of Narcan administered by paramedics, he has said.
Drug addiction is a local, state, and national problem and that communities are “better at handling the demand side of the problem by working on prevention education, harm reduction, intervention and by making treatment available to those suffering from addiction,” Adkins said.
Local communities, he said, need more help from the federal government in funding those local efforts and in “curtailing the supply of illegal drugs” entering the U.S. for distribution to areas like Southwest Ohio.
“It will take all modes of government working in coordination to stem what is now a national epidemic,” he said.
Rodney Muterspaw, Middletown police chief, said he was “excited” about Trump’s initiatives and hopes the federal government is serious about helping because that’s missing.
“State and local agencies can’t do it alone and can’t fund it ourselves,” the chief said.
Middletown Fire Chief Paul Lolli said Trump was “dead on” when he talked about the need to keep the drugs from entering the U.S. and teaching young people to never try drugs.
“We need to start as early as we can,” he said of anti-drug education.
Jenny Bailer, Butler County health commissioner, called Trump’s actions “a start, but we need much, much more.”
She said the opioid crisis is having “a huge impact” on everyone, either directly or indirectly.
“We need to pull out all the stops from prevention activities, to expanded treatment, to harm reduction, to help for first responders and children who have suffered extraordinary losses, to things we haven’t even thought of yet,” Bailer said.
Jackie Phillips, Middletown’s health commissioner, when told Trump said this generation could be the one to end the opioid crisis, said he was being too optimistic.
But she hopes the president, by addressing the crisis, generates resources that filter to the local level.
Now, Phillips said, the attention needs to be turned to young people. They need to be warned about the dangers of drugs before they try them, she said. She said children of drug addicts are at “high risk” because of their genetics and environments.
Ever since founding Celebrating Restoration four years ago, Ron Ward has tried to help area drug addicts by hosting meetings, securing them housing and employment and getting them into treatment facilities. He’s fighting the epidemic at the ground level.
A good friend recently died from a cocaine overdose because it was laced with fentanyl, Ward said. Because several drugs are now being laced with fentanyl, Ward said it is the worst time to “experiment” with drugs.
“The fentanyl is taking over,” Ward said.
He welcomed the assistance of the federal government because, he said, it will take an “army to fight this battle.”