NPR for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

What Opioid Decision Means To Hard-Hit States Like West Virginia


Today, President Trump addresses the opioids crisis in the United States. He's not declaring a national emergency precisely. He is declaring, however, a public health emergency, as we understand it.

The administration says that going that route will better allow them to address the crisis on a nationwide basis. What it does not do is direct any new funding to tackling the crisis. Let's talk about what this means for a hard-hit state - the state of West Virginia where Dr. Rahul Gupta is the state's health officer. He joins us via Skype. Good morning, sir.

RAHUL GUPTA: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Is the president's action going far enough for you?

GUPTA: Well, we believe it's a good first step in ensuring that this crisis has provided enough of an opportunity to make sure that people understand what this is and how much devastation has been caused by it. I often equivalate (ph) it to the equivalence of a Boeing 737 crashing every single day in terms of we're losing about 150 Americans every single day. It is important to provide that light to this problem.

INSKEEP: And what makes the problem especially severe in West Virginia?

GUPTA: What has been critical is the declining economy as, obviously, the job losses that have caused - in addition to the shipment of hundreds of millions of pills into the state in terms of opioids that has actually worsened. And so we've reached a perfect storm type of situation a few years ago that caused people, on one hand, to lose hope but, on the other hand, to have these highly addictive substances with a very rugged population in terms of having a lot of the coal mining and laborious jobs, which caused really the epicenter of the epidemic.

INSKEEP: Can people get treatment if they need it - most people in West Virginia?

GUPTA: Treatment infrastructure is a challenge that states like West Virginia face. We have made a significant amount of progress but not sufficient as of today. And we certainly need to have more resources in order to have more of a 21st century treatment system available. We're working on them. But we certainly have a long way to go to ensure that everyone who needs treatment is able to get the treatment.

INSKEEP: So if the president called you up and said, what do you need, what would you tell him?

GUPTA: I would say that we need to prioritize, first of all, the overdosing and both the fatalities as well as non-fatal overdoses to ensure that every one of these people is looked upon as a cry for help and enters into treatment. And we must ensure to have the infrastructure in order to get these people into treatment, rehabilitation, recovery and then back into the workforce.

The second thing I would say in terms of that we also need to focus on providing resources to drugs like naloxone and others for opioid treatment programs as well as....

INSKEEP: Oh, that's an antidote drug. OK, sure.

GUPTA: Yeah. Antidotes as well as the treatment program in terms of MAT. We also have to focus on the drug-dependent babies that are being born today and working upstream to help prevent these from happening in the first place, whether it's the long-acting reversible contraceptives or treatment and recovery of women while they're pregnant. So we are not dealing with downstream impact of a lost generation of babies 15 to 20 years from today as a consequence of one generation's impact on the other.

INSKEEP: So I heard you use the word infrastructure. I heard you use the word resources. Both of those translate into money. What do you think about the fact that so far as we know the president's announcement is not going to bring with it extra federal money?

GUPTA: Yeah. I think the - this declaration typically would do two things. One is to remove a stigma and shed light. And the second would be - typically, would be to bring resources in terms of - perhaps, there's an opportunity now for Congress to act to fund the public health emergency fund and to direct those resources specifically for this crisis is critical.

We say that because there is - addressing this crisis today is critical to preventing further death, disease and destruction in the lives of Americans in the years to come. So if we are going to prevent disease outbreaks - address this problem today - we need to make sure that it is sufficiently funded from a resource standpoint.

INSKEEP: Dr. Rahul Gupta, the state health officer of West Virginia, thank you very much.

GUPTA: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.