Dems ask GAO to audit Trump's progress on self-declared opioid crisis

Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Patty Murray, Tim Kaine and others want to know where the administration is spending money and what actions have been taken to combat the crisis – especially on telemedicine initiatives.
By Jessica Davis
12:14 PM
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Opioid commission

A group of U.S. Senate Democrats is asking the Government Accountability Office to review the actions taken by the Trump administration since it declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in October 2017.

The Department of Health and Human Services Acting Director Eric Hargan extended the emergency for 90 days after it expired on Jan. 23.

Declaring the prescription drug epidemic is meant to facilitate resources to federal, state and local responders. Further, it’s meant to shift funds from other programs to help those eligible receive substance abuse treatment.

[Also: McKesson presses Trump commission to leverage pharmacists, patient safety network to fight opioid epidemic]

And President Donald Trump said the declaration would allow telemedicine programs to expand for addiction treatment and let HHS hire temporary specialists to work on the crisis.

However, while the senators recognize the value in the declaration of a public health emergency, they’re concerned about reports Trump has made little progress. Specifically, that states and local communities have been left without the resources needed to fight the opioid crisis.

“The administration has yet to officially allocate new funds to address the epidemic, in spite of bipartisan calls from governors and legislators to do so,” the senators wrote. “Despite saying that it would work with Congress, the White House has put forward no proposals for authorizing new funding.”

What’s concerning, the Democrats wrote, is that Trump plans to slash $340 million in funding from the administration’s opioid response budget. And key leadership positions have yet to be filled, including the Drug Enforcement Administration administrator.

And the telemedicine initiatives the President said he supported have not been implemented.

The senators are asking the GAO to review the available supplemental authorities and resources for the executive branch as a result of the public health emergency declaration and to determine which of these supplemental resources have been used since the declaration was made.

As the administration gained access to the public health emergency fund with the declaration, the senators also want to know how the fund was accessed and how agencies have spent the money. Further, the senators want the GAO to review what analyses the administration has made in order to assess the need for declaring the crisis.

Twitter: @JessieFDavis
Email the writer: jessica.davis@himssmedia.com