Trump Calls Opioid Epidemic “National Shame” and “Human Tragedy

President Trump on Thursday decried the opioid epidemic ravaging America as a “national shame” and “human tragedy,” but one the U.S. will “overcome,” as he declared the crisis a national public health emergency.

“Working together, we will defeat this opioid epidemic,” Mr. Trump said Thursday, with first lady Melania Trump at his side. “It will be defeated. We will free our nation from the terrible affliction of drug abuse. And, yes, we will overcome addiction in America. We are going to overcome addiction in America. We have fought and won many battles and many wars before. And we will win again.”

Mr. Trump said the nation needs to face reality “right smack in the face,” and realize that hundreds of thousands of Americans are already addicted. The crisis claimed more than 64,000 lives in 2016 alone. The epidemic needs to be confronted aggressively, the president said, and his move allows for expanded telemedicine access and specialist appointments for patients, among other things. The president also said Americans can expect lawsuits against “bad actors” in the drug industry, and the U.S. Postal Service to step up its fentanyl detection. Mr. Trump said he will also bring up fentanyl, the exceptionally deadly opioid, when he visits Chinese President Xi Jinping in China next month.

But the president’s declaration of a national public health crisis falls short of what he promised in August, which was to declare the crisis a national emergency. Declaring the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency doesn’t free up additional funds, or give the federal government as much leverage in addressing the crisis as a national emergency would have. The president defied his own opioid commission, led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, which had recommended declaring a national emergency.

“With approximately 142 Americans dying every day, America is enduring a death toll equal to Sept. 11 every three weeks,” the commission members wrote in July. “Your declaration would empower your cabinet to take bold steps and would force Congress to focus on funding and empowering the executive branch even further to deal with this loss of life.”

Former President Obama’s drug czar and executive director of the Grayken Center for Addiction at Boston Medical Center, Michael Botticelli, said what Mr. Trump did isn’t enough.

“While I commend the president and the first lady for calling attention to the opioid epidemic, I think it’s quite unfortunate and sad that none of the actions today I think are really going to have a major impact and urgent impact this epidemic,” Botticelli said.

“I think to issue a national emergency without additional resources is quite honestly very hollow and doesn’t speak to the tremendous pain and loss that we’re seeing in places all across the country,” he added.

In his speech Thursday, Mr. Trump got a little personal, pointing to his relationship with his brother as a reason why the U.S. needs to deter young people from trying drugs in the first place. Mr. Trump’s older brother, Fred Trump, had an alcohol addiction. But he always urged his younger brother not to drink.

“I learned myself, I had a brother Fred, great guy, best looking guy, best personality, much better than mine, but he had a problem,” the president said. “He had a problem with alcohol. And he would tell me don’t drink, don’t drink. He was substantially older and I listened to him and I respected. But he would constantly tell me don’t drink, he would also add don’t smoke. But he would say it over and over and over again.”

“And to this day I’ve never had a drink,” Mr. Trump continued. “And I have no longing for it. I have no interest in it. To this day I’ve never had a cigarette. Don’t worry, those are only two of my good things. I don’t want to tell you about the bad things. There’s plenty of bad things too. But he really helped me. I had somebody that guided me. And he had a very, very, very tough life because of alcohol, believe me, very, very tough, tough life. He was a strong guy, but it was a tough, tough thing that he was going through. But I learned because of Fred, I learned.”

The president said he expects to see a new report with recommendations from his opioid commission next week.

CBS News’ Arden Farhi contributed to this report.