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Trump: ‘Liberate our fellow Americans’ from addiction
President Donald Trump addresses the Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit on Wednesday in Atlanta. - photo by Andrew Kenneson

ATLANTA — One thousand seven.

That’s how many people died from opioid overdoses in Georgia in 2017, the most recent year numbers are available, part of the more than 70,000 deaths nationwide. For Georgia, the death rate is climbing even faster than the rest of the county, up 16% in the state, versus 14% across the country. 

At the Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit in Atlanta on Wednesday, President Donald Trump gave remarks on the crisis and what the current administration is doing to stem the tide of people overdosing on opioids. 

“Everyone here is today is united by the same vital goal, to liberate our fellow Americans from drug addiction and end the opioid crisis once and for all,” Trump said at the summit. 

“We will not solve this epidemic overnight but we will not stop, there’s just nothing going to stop us — I know some of the people in this room, nothing stops you.” 

 Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in 2017, disappointing some who thought he should have gone a step further and declared a national emergency, which would have unlocked more funding. He said his administration has, nevertheless, contributed significant funds to combat the problem. 

“Since then we have secured a record $6 billion to combat the opioid crisis and that’s the most ever, and we’re going for even bigger numbers this year.”

Trump pointed at tighter border security, negotiations with China and pursuing big pharmaceutical companies to cut down on supply of drugs in America.

Trump said seizures of meth, cocaine, heroin and fentanyl at the U.S.-Mexico border are up 45% in the past two years “and going up much higher.”

“We are seizing it all over,” he said. 

According to numbers from the Customs and Border Protection Agency, 90% of drugs smuggled into the United States come through legal ports of entry.  Two Savannah field officers who were on stage with Trump at the speech, for instance, recently seized $19 million of cocaine in a shipment of pineapples from Colombia. 

Fentanyl, a high-powered synthetic opioid, has been part of the driver of recent upticks in overdose deaths. Much of it comes from China, and Trump touted a ruling by Chinese government to ban fentanyl as a positive step toward halting that flow. 

“As a result of my negotiations with President Xi (Jinping) and part of the trade they announced that next week they will implement new measures to prevent Chinese fentanyl, which is most of it — almost all fentanyl comes from China — to be be shipped to the United States,” Trump said. 

Still, many of these opioids enter the market, and American bloodstreams, through prescriptions. Trump referenced the Department of Justice’s suit against Rochester Drug Cooperative for conspiring to distribute drugs and defrauding the federal government following discoveries that the company had not reported thousands of suspicious orders of opioids. 

“We’re holding Big Pharma accountable and they need to be accountable,” he said. 

Rep. Jody Hice was in attendance at the summit and was grateful for Trump’s remarks. 

“Georgia isn’t immune to the opioid crisis, and I’m proud that the Trump administration and Congress have taken several steps in addressing the root causes of this epidemic with the passage of the SUPPORT Act last year,” Hice, R-Ga., said.

“The president’s visit to the Peach State shows his continued emphasis on combatting this problem by focusing on prevention, advancing treatment and recovery initiatives, and improving efforts to fight illicit synthetic drugs like fentanyl.” 

The SUPPORT Act, which Trump signed last October, was a bipartisan bill that increased funding for addiction treatment and expanded training for drug detection. 

Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson also applauded some of the efforts. 

“President Trump declared the opioid crisis a national emergency soon after taking office, and last year, Congress acted to pass bipartisan, comprehensive opioid legislation to improve our federal government’s response,” Isakson, a member of two Senate committees that oversee health care, said.

“I appreciate the president’s continued emphasis on this problem, which has touched so many families, including my own. Georgia and states across the country, along with our medical community and first responders, now have better tools to fight this epidemic to help more Georgians and Americans.”