DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Later today, President Trump is expected to address the country about the nation's opioid epidemic. Trump said he would declare the opioid crisis a national emergency back in August, but that proposal has languished until now. A reporter asked the president last week when he would make this declaration.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: People have no understanding of what you just said. That is a very, very big statement. It's a very important step, and to get to that step, a lot of work has to be done, and it's time-consuming work.
GREENE: Well, meanwhile, there has been a lot of guessing about just what a declaration would mean in terms of treatment resources. Congress is spending $500 Million on addiction programs, but public health experts say the need is in the billions. Joining us is Noam Levey. He writes about health care for the LA Times. Noam, good morning.
NOAM LEVEY: Good morning.
GREENE: So what would some formal declaration actually mean in terms of addressing this crisis?
LEVEY: Well, we won't know until we hear more about the details of what the Trump administration is proposing. But in broad brushstrokes, the expectation is that some sort of a declaration would allow the federal government to free up some additional money to help support particularly state efforts to increase treatment for people with substance abuse disorders. As you mentioned, there is an enormous unmet need out there, tens of thousands of people struggling with addiction, and yet, the surgeon general concluded last year that just 1 in 10 Americans with a substance use disorder are getting the treatment that they need.
GREENE: That's an extraordinary number. So 9 in 10 with some sort of problem in this crisis are not getting the treatment they need. That - that's a lot of people, and I guess it makes me wonder, is this just a matter of resources? Would a lot more federal money and going to the states, would that solve the treatment problem, or is this a lot more complicated?
LEVEY: Well, it is an extremely complicated issue. There are many factors that have obviously contributed to the crisis. But this is, in large measure, at the moment at least I think, a money issue. One of the sort of good things - to the extent that there is such a thing in this crisis - is that there's pretty good evidence that treatment and particularly medications, medications like methadone, buprenorphine, can be very effective in helping people with opioid addictions get to a place where they can live normal, productive lives. And, of course, one of the major ways that that can be accomplished is getting people into health insurance. That requires money. And, of course, the fate of health insurance, the fate of Medicaid coverage particularly, is tied up in the whole debate over repealing Obamacare.
So really the thrust of what a lot of folks out on the frontlines of this epidemic are saying is get us - get us the ability to get the people that we're treating the health insurance that they need so they can get the medications. And then they can get the wraparound services that are critical to getting people well.
GREENE: Well, I'm glad you brought up health insurance because it makes me wonder, is President Trump in a difficult spot being so against the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare, which, you know, can - I presume - affect substance abuse treatment as you said while also saying that he's committed to solving this crisis?
LEVEY: There is a disconnect there. When you go to places like Ohio and West Virginia that are sort of experiencing this epidemic truly, truly huge levels, they will tell you getting Medicaid coverage has been critical. The president has backed efforts in Congress to rollback hundreds of billions of dollars of federal assistance to states for Medicaid. That would have a huge impact on the ability of states to deal with this crisis.
GREENE: All right. Noam Levey covers health care and health care policy for the Los Angeles Times. He joined us on Skype. Thanks for the time this morning. We appreciate it.
LEVEY: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.