Senate Democrats urge GAO to investigate White House opioid response: 4 things to know

Nineteen Democratic senators called on the Government Accountability Office to investigate the Trump administration's response to the nation's opioid crisis, according to a letter obtained by Vox

The senators sent the letter — whose first two signees were Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. — to the GAO Tuesday.

Here are five things to know.

1. President Donald Trump first directed HHS to declare the opioid epidemic a public health emergency in October. HHS renewed the designation last month, carrying it to April 23. In the letter to the GAO, the Senators acknowledged the declaration as an important initial move toward addressing the crisis, but questioned whether the administration was fully leveraging its ability to take on the issue under the declaration.

"Given the severity of the crisis, we have grown increasingly concerned by reports that the president has done little to make use of his public health emergency declaration, leaving state and local communities without the resources they need to fight the opioid epidemic," wrote the senators.

2. The Trump administration has taken steps outside the designation of public health emergency to address the opioid epidemic, including advancing research into nonopioid pain medication at the National Institutes of Health. Additionally, President Trump signed the International Narcotics Trafficking Emergency Response by Detecting Incoming Contraband with Technology Act — or INTERDICT Act — to allot $9 million in additional funds for Customs and Border Protection to purchase new screening equipment capable of detecting synthetic opioids and other narcotics.

3. In the letter, the senators highlighted the lack of new funding made available by the administration to combat the crisis, an issue that has previously drawn criticism from public health experts.

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

4. Senators also cited vacancies in key leadership positions at agencies crucial for the nation's response to the crisis, such as the White House drug czar office and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

To read the full report from Vox, click here.

To read the senator's letter, click here.

More articles on opioids: 
Baltimore sues opioid manufacturers, distributors 
Colorado county 1st in state to file opioid lawsuit against drug companies 
Florida physician convicted in 49k pill opioid prescription scam

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