President's opioid declaration does little for Pima County

Updated: Oct. 26, 2017 at 5:15 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - President Donald Trump declared the nation's opioid epidemic a public health emergency, which means money for programs and strategies will not be forthcoming.

In calling for an emergency declaration, President Trump pointed out 175 people die from an opioid overdose every day in the United States.

If President Trump had declared the epidemic a national emergency, as he indicated he would, it would have freed up billions of dollars in federal disaster relief funds.

But even without the new funding and strategies, Pima County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francisco Garcia said there will be some benefits in southern Arizona.

"It's an important issue and one we should talk about," he said. "Any conversation which brings public attention is good."

He said conversations may help young people understand the dangers of opioid misuse and may help save lives.

According to some reports, the public health emergency declaration frees up public money from a fund administered by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The fund holds only $57,000, according to USA Today.

If there are other funding sources, President Trump did not indicate whether he will tap them.

Opioids are present in 70 percent of the overdose deaths in Pima County, but it has not reached the crisis proportions it has in other parts of the country.

The number of overdose deaths has remained relatively flat for the past few years, which generally number 250-260 per year.

Dr. Garcia said he doesn't see today's drug wars as much different than those of the past, referring to the "Just Say No" campaign, which was popular in the 1980s.

"Opioid-related deaths happen to be the issue de jour," he said. "Whacking opioids down does not solve any of the other issues."

He said he believes the strategy to fight drug misuse should be a multi-pronged approach.

"We should be talking about the larger picture, which is substance misuse as a category," he said. "Opioids are an important source of the deaths, but so are methamphetamine, so is alcohol and other substances."

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