WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump is expected to tout his fight against opioid abuse in remarks in Atlanta on Wednesday, a day after his administration brought its first related criminal charges against a major drug distributor and company executives.
America’s opioid epidemic, especially damaging in rural areas where Trump is popular, has been a focus for the Republican president.
Little has come of Trump’s calls for executing drug dealers, but on other fronts the administration has taken some action. Trump has worked to boost funding for treatment and raise awareness of the problem.
On Tuesday, the government charged Rochester Drug Co-operative Inc and executives of the major drug distributor. The company agreed to pay $20 million and enter a deferred prosecution agreement to resolve charges it turned a blind eye to thousands of suspicious orders for opioids.
Deaths from opioid overdose in the United States jumped 17 percent in 2017 from a year earlier to more than 49,000 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Deaths from synthetic opioids like fentanyl surged 45 percent in that time, according to the CDC.
Hundreds of lawsuits by state and local governments accuse drugmakers such as Purdue Pharma of deceptively marketing opioids, and distributors such as AmerisourceBergen Corp, Cardinal Health Inc and McKesson Corp of ignoring that they were being diverted for improper uses.
Trump has said he convinced Chinese President Xi Jinping in a December meeting in Argentina to designate fentanyl as a controlled substance.
China last month listed all fentanyl-related substances as controlled narcotics after criticism from Trump, though its government blamed U.S. culture for abuse of the drug and said the amount of fentanyl going from China into the United States was “extremely limited.”
Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in October 2017. He plans to provide an update on his administration’s work on the issue at the Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit, a White House spokesman said.
Trump has used the crisis to support his call for building a wall on the border with Mexico, saying it would help keep out drugs and curb the crisis.
Heroin from Mexico accounted for 86 percent of the heroin found on U.S. streets, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency’s most recent annual narcotic report. Heroin, unlike fentanyl, is derived from the seeds of the opium poppy plant.
Last week, U.S. health officials said they will spend $350 million in four states to study ways to best deal with the opioid crisis on the local level, with a goal of reducing opioid-related overdose deaths by 40 percent over three years in selected communities in those states.
Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Writing by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and David Gregorio