The real cost of the opioid crisis

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In 2016, the opioid crisis cost the United States 64,070 lives. President Trump's declaration of a "public health emergency" on Thursday, however, signified that the administration would continue to address this crippling crisis on only the most superficial of levels.

WhileTrump promised to declare "a national emergency" on opioids this past August, his actions taken Thursday fall sorrowfully short of that commitment (which would have rapidly funneled federal funding into addressing the issue.) Instead, the declaration of a public health emergency does nothing to release additional funds, though the Trump administration asserted that he will soon do so.

The declaration does direct federal agencies to utilize existing grant funds to combat the crisis, and the administration also promised to urge Congress to bolster the public health emergency fund (which currently contains only $57,000) during budget negotiations. A rule barring Medicaid funding from being used in many drug rehabilitation centers will also be bypassed through the declaration.

"The president was right about one thing today: the opioid crisis in this country is a national emergency," said Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. "Unfortunately, his announcement was nothing more than an empty promise - declaring an emergency, but failing to provide states with the necessary funding to address the crisis."

Such a lackluster response does little to change the daily reality faced by communities on the frontlines of the epidemic, including many rural regions of Vermont and New England. As overdose deaths continue to decimate swaths of our population, it can admittedly be difficult to envision an effective solution to such a daunting foe.

Still, work is being done in our communities to fight the tide of opiates. Here in Manchester, a group of mothers recently banded together under the moniker "Fed Up" to fight for increased funding and resources to combat the crisis on local, state, and national levels. Daily, organizations like Londonderry's Collaborative and Bennington's Turning Point Center work on the ground to encourage recovery and promote prevention.

These local organizations have echoed the national dialogue in emphasizing the need for increased funding on all levels. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, approximately 1 in 10 Americans grappling with substance abuse receive treatment. This isn't because they enjoy the debilitating cycle of avoiding withdrawal — it's because resources like detox and rehabilitation centers remain inaccessible for the majority of addicts.

"As we work to learn more about the doors this declaration will open at the state level, it is clear there is still more work to do here in Vermont and at the federal level," said Gov. Phil Scott in response to Thursday's declaration.

Gov. Scott is right; there is more work ahead than behind. There is a desperate need for the government - at all levels - to increase funding to detox and rehabilitation centers, and remove roadblocks to care when it comes to health insurance coverage. While the cost may be high in terms of tax dollars, it's becoming clear that we too often forget what the real cost of this crisis is — loved ones.

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