President Barack Obama has been sharing with his administration his view of the opioid epidemic and his hopes for ending the war on drugs, but he’s been asked about the vast majority of the country.
“We’ve heard it from a number of different groups, but I think that, for most Americans, there is a common sense notion that the opioid abuse epidemic is a public health issue,” Obama said Wednesday at a White House news conference.
“I’ve heard the view that, in many ways, the opioid overdose epidemic is more a public-health issue than the crime or the corruption that is fueling the crisis.”
Obama’s comments are in contrast to the views of most Republicans, who have blamed the epidemic for more deaths than crime and corruption, including heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines.
The president has been more circumspect than his predecessor on the issue, with some Republicans expressing concern about the president’s apparent reluctance to take action.
“I don’t want to get into hypotheticals,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in a statement Wednesday.
“But we know that there are more than 50 million Americans who are dependent on opioids and we know they are hurting.
The president is also making it clear that we need to address the root cause of the problem, not just address a few parts.”
In response, the president issued a statement Thursday that was more blunt.
“The opioid crisis is an issue of public health and is one of our nation’s great challenges, yet the president and the White House are ignoring that reality,” the president said.
“There are more Americans who have died of opioids than have been killed in any other violent crime in U.S. history.
This epidemic is not going away, and it will never go away.
As President, I am going to continue to push Congress to act, to make progress, and to help end this terrible scourge.””
But to do so, we must acknowledge the facts of the crisis, and act on them,” the statement added.”
For the first time in decades, nearly 1 in 4 Americans have been addicted to opioids,” Boehner said.
He added, “The president and his administration should listen to the overwhelming number of Americans who know firsthand how the opioid addiction crisis is harming them and their families, and not the president.”
Obama also made the case that the crisis is not solely a health issue.
“While the opioid and heroin epidemic is one public health challenge, I’ve spent much of my career as a leader working to reduce drug abuse and violence in our communities, and I’ve learned that public health can help achieve our shared goals,” Obama added.
“That is why I’m asking Congress to pass bipartisan legislation that helps tackle this crisis and prevent further deaths and addiction in our country.”
A federal government report released Wednesday showed that the number of deaths and overdose deaths linked to opioids increased by more than 700 percent from 2010 to 2016, with the number associated with heroin more than doubling.
The report found that heroin overdoses, which are the leading cause of overdose death in the United States, rose from 6,700 in 2015 to 23,400 in 2016, and the number linked to heroin tripled.
In the wake of the latest report, several Republican senators have signaled they might not support the president in his next push for legislation to address this crisis.
One of them, Sen. Mike Lee, R of Utah, has said he wants to work with Obama to develop a bipartisan bill to address these opioid crises.
“This is not a partisan issue.
This is not about one party or the other,” Lee said in a recent statement.
“We need to do everything we can to reduce the number and severity of deaths associated with these drugs, and if the president decides not to pursue a bipartisan solution, we should work with him to create one.”
A senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the president, told ABC News that there’s a bipartisan consensus in Congress to address and prevent drug use and overdose, but that there is still more work to be done to address drug abuse.
The administration official said the administration will continue to provide information to Congress and the public about the epidemic and the crisis in communities.
The White House did not respond to ABC News’ requests for comment about the comment.