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President Trump To Speak At Opioid Abuse Summit In Atlanta


President Donald Trump and the first lady have talked a lot about the opioid crisis.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The opioid crisis is an emergency.

What's happening with drugs in this country and throughout the world. But in our country, it's a disgrace, and we can stop it.

If we don't get tough on the drug dealers, we're wasting our time.


MELANIA TRUMP: I'm proud of this administration's commitment to battling this epidemic.

MARTIN: Today the couple will talk about it again at a summit on opioid abuse in Atlanta. They're expected to highlight their efforts to fight the drug crisis. Just yesterday, federal prosecutors charged a big opioid distributor, Rochester Drug Cooperative, and two of its former executives for their role in the crisis. Federal officials say it's the first indictment of its kind.

We are joined now by Nora Volkow. She is director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is part of the National Institutes of Health. She is at the Atlanta summit.

Thank you so much for being with us this morning.

NORA VOLKOW: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: First, let me ask you about these criminal charges that were brought yesterday. How important are they in the broader fight against opioid addiction?

VOLKOW: Well, it is important to make people accountable for practices that are not correct, that actually have generated so much suffering. So I do believe that we have a responsibility as a society to make those people that did wrongdoing recognized so that others can be deterred from doing it again.

MARTIN: How would you describe the Trump administration's approach to combating the opioid crisis? - because as I mentioned, the president talks a lot about it. But what are the actions behind those words? And have they made a difference?

VOLKOW: Well, the approach is a multipronged approach that has components that relate to actually providing and expanding the treatment of individuals that are suffering from an opiate use disorder, strategies to actually change the practices on how we handle pain conditions on patients so that rather than just relying on opioids, we can utilize other strategies and when we need opioids for patients that don't respond to something else to properly treat them. Also important is actually to do prevention intervention so that individuals don't start experimenting with drugs, which then is the initiation of a trajectory that can lead to drug addiction.

And finally, another important component is to expand the access to medications that can be used in order to save lives for people that overdose. Specifically, expanding accessibility to Narcan or naloxone is another strategy to save many, many lives.

MARTIN: You talk about the need to expand access to these treatments. But at the same time, the Trump administration has advocated a rollback of the Medicaid expansion that came with the Affordable Care Act, which included mental health care, which - you talk to many drug experts, addiction experts, they say that's critical to helping addicts who are suffering from opioid addiction. What effect has that rollback had?

VOLKOW: Well, the key component is actually providing quality advance care to people that are addicted. That is the main point. I think that we can argue one way or the other. It's not just about paying bills. It's about providing care that is going to be lifesaving. And for example, we know that medications for the treatment of opioid use disorder is the most effective intervention that we have to prevent them from overdosing and dying. And yet, we are not providing these medications. So this is at the essence of the challenge that we have in our hands.

Another important component - the strategies to expand research so that we have new alternative treatments that can help those that don't respond to classical interventions. So it is not, sometimes, one simple solution. But the reality is we need to actually change the practices that we have in our country.

MARTIN: Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, thank you so much for your time.

VOLKOW: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.