A Fox & Friends segment citing President Donald Trump’s State of the Union remarks that his administration will fight the deadly opioid crisis ignored that the president has yet to actually take any action, and instead misleadingly blamed the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion and states’ legalization of marijuana for making the opioid crisis worse.
Trump addressed the opioid crisis that is killing tens of thousands of Americans annually for less than a minute in his January 30 State of the Union address, saying that his administration “is committed to fighting the drug epidemic and helping get treatment for those in need.” On the February 1 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, Dr. Kevin Sabet, who worked on drug policy in the Obama White House, gave credit to Trump’s opioid commission for putting out “a very good report” and put the onus on Congress to fund its recommendations, saying: “We need funding for it, for the president's opioid commission, which was a bipartisan commission. Put out a very good report. Now we need to see Congress and the administration fund those recommendations.”
But as CBS News explained after Trump’s address, the administration has not requested the Congress for funds to combat the crisis:
Since October, the White House has dithered on asking Congress for funding to combat the epidemic.
In the 97 days since the president declared the crisis a public health emergency, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders has been unable to specify how much money the White House would request for funding. She has also not said when they would be submitting a funding request to Congress.
After Mr. Trump declared the crisis a public health emergency in October -- a declaration that came with a laundry list of action items that have yet to be executed -- he has done little to bolster the paltry $57,000 available in the public health emergency fund. The president dedicated his third quarter salary of roughly $100,000 to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to combat the crisis. But that's pocket change compared to the what the Council of Economic Advisers projected as the cost of the epidemic in 2015 alone: $504 billion dollars.
“The emergency declaration has accomplished little because there's no funding behind it,” Opioid Commission member and former congressman Patrick Kennedy told CNN last week. “You can't expect to stem the tide of a public health crisis that is claiming over 64,000 lives per year without putting your money where your mouth is.”
A day after Trump’s address, some Democratic senators sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office asking it to investigate Trump’s lack of action after he declared “a public health emergency over the opioid crisis in October.”
But in its February 1 segment on the opioid crisis, Fox & Friends didn’t focus on Trump administration’s failure to take concrete steps to address the issue. Instead co-host Ainsley Earhardt opened the segment by blaming the Affordable Care Act’s 2014 Medicaid expansion for making the crisis worse, citing a Republican report that claimed Medicaid and its expansion contributed to prescription pill fraud.
A January 17 Vox article that examined evidence behind the Republican claim that Medicaid expansion made the opioid crisis worse soundly debunked the theory. As Vox senior reporter German Lopez summed up:
This claim runs into a basic problem: the concept of time. Medicaid didn’t expand under Obamacare until 2014 — well after opioid overdose deaths started rising (in the late 1990s), after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2011 declared the crisis an epidemic, and as the crisis became more about illicit opioids, such as heroin and fentanyl, rather than conventional opioid painkillers.
Additionally Lopez noted that Medicaid can play a major part in addressing the opioid epidemic by covering addiction treatment, a point Kaiser Family Foundation has also made.
Toward the end of the Fox segment, Dr. Sabet also blamed increasing legalization of marijuana for part of the opioid crisis:
DR. KEVIN SABET: If we continue to do things like legalize marijuana and these other very harmful policies, we're going to make the opioid crisis much worse. This is an addiction crisis.
AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): Really? You hear that, California?
SABET: And many other states. This is an addiction crisis. Not just an opioid crisis.
Sabet has a history of making anti-marijuana claims. And recent research shows that his claim that legalized marijuana makes the opioid crisis worse is simply wrong.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), concluded “medical cannabis laws are associated with significantly lower state-level opioid mortality rates.” In March 2017, NBC News reported on a study which found that in states that allow legal medical marijuana use, “hospitalization rates for opioid painkiller dependence and abuse dropped on average 23 percent,” compared to an average of a 13 percent drop. And in October 2017, The Washington Post reported on a study which found that recreational marijuana legalization in Colorado led to a “reversal” of opiate overdose deaths. According to the study’s authors, “opioid-related deaths decreased more than 6% in the following 2 years” after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana sale and use.
The Trump administration has made a recent policy move to discourage legalized marijuana from growing as a business. On January 4, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he’s rescinding federal guidelines that limited federal prosecutions for marijuana sales in states where it’s legal, which led to concerns that the Department of Justice may prosecute more people for marijuana crimes.