In October of last year, President Donald Trump declared the U.S. opioid epidemic a 90-day health emergency, but he has yet to allocate any funding for the commission charged with addressing the crisis.
Former Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy, one of six members on the bipartisan commission, told CNN he feels the commission's work is "essentially a sham".
"This and the administration's other efforts to address the epidemic are tantamount to reshuffling chairs on the Titanic," said Kennedy. "The emergency declaration has accomplished little because there's no funding behind it. You can't expect to stem the tide of a public health crisis that is claiming over 64,000 lives per year without putting your money where your mouth is."
After making the declaration with no funding to back it up, Trump pledged his third quarter salary to the Department of Health and Human Services to be used in its fight against the epidemic. But so far, that is the extent of the president's action on the matter.
Critics say the declaration did virtually nothing to change the status quo and that overdose deaths have continued to mount in the months since. The public health emergency declaration was, in fact, set to expire on January 23, but as the government was headed toward a shut down on Friday, Acting Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Eric Hargan renewed the national public health emergency for another 90 days.
Kennedy also turned to Congress, attacking the recent tax plan that decreases federal revenue at a time he says it is most needed:
Kennedy blasted Congress for its $1.5 trillion in tax cuts and predicted the GOP-led House and Senate would now focus on the gutting of Medicaid -- a program he said is the "largest provider and best hope to tackle the opioid epidemic." The tax cuts, Kennedy said, would set "this country back further than anything else in our ability to tackle this opioid crisis. Period."
And Kennedy is far from the only voice weighing in on the lack of tangible difference Trump's declaration has produced:
"I have not seen any effect of the state of emergency in any way," said Dr. Leana Wen, the health commissioner for the city of Baltimore. She has testified twice on Capitol Hill for the need for funding.
"If this were a true state of emergency, there would be immediate relief of resources that would directly target the front lines, in areas that are hardest hit. Imagine if this was a natural disaster: There would be immediate relief," she said.
But that relief might be a long time coming. Trump has yet to appoint a permanent director to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy and has yet to enact significant new measures aimed directly at the opioid crisis.
Earlier this month, Trump signed a law that gives US Customs and Border Protection better detection devices for catching fentanyl as comes across the border, noting at the time that he has the answer to the drug problem but isn't "sure the country is ready for it yet".
No one from the White House offered any clarification on that remark. And in the meantime, the commission remains essentially ineffective.
"We're going to be taken down by the enemy from within, and it's our inability to see the handwriting on the wall, to see the depths of despair and to know that we need a gut-check in our country to really understand what does this mean for us as a nation and what are we going to do to address it," he said. "We're in an existential crisis right now."