As It Happens

Trump's emergency declaration just 'lip service,' says man whose lost son to opioid addiction

"Anything is better than nothing, but I think what people need right now is help today," says the founder of Save The Michaels Of The World.
Avi Israel and his son, Michael, who took his own life in 2011 after struggling with opoid addiction (Avi Israel/Facebook )

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Six months before Avi Israel's son Michael took his own life in 2011, he walked into his father's bedroom and said, "Dad, I'm addicted."

"I had no clue what he was talking about. I didn't know anything about addiction other than what comes to mind when you first hear the word addict or addiction — somebody that's homeless, that lives under a bridge somewhere," Israel, founder of the non-profit Save the Michaels of the World, told As It Happens guest host Hellen Mann.

"I look at my son's face and I couldn't imagine him being addicted."

Michael was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease at the age of 12. When the pain became too unbearable, his doctors started prescribing him opioids.

Israel had no idea his son's mediations were highly addictive.

"Michael was actually prescribed into addiction and his addiction was subsidized by our insurance company," he said.

The next six months were an uphill battle to get help. Michael's family physician didn't take him seriously, Israel said. After his first suicide attempt, Micheal was sent home from the emergency room with no access to long-term treatment.

Three months later, on June 4, 2011, he took his own life. He was 20 years old.

Michael Israel became addicted to painkillers he was prescribed to deal with his Crohn's disease. (Save the Michaels of the World/Facebook )

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday declared the opioid crisis a nationwide public health emergency.

But Israel says it's too little, too late.

"What we have right now is really nothing but a lot of lip service. We have people that walk into emergency room after an overdose and get sent right out the door without any access to treatment, without any connection to treatment," Israel, whose foundation helps connect people to addictions services, said.

"And when you walk out the door ... there's a drug deal waiting at the end of the parking lot."

U.S. administration officials have made clear that the declaration, which lasts for 90 days and can be renewed, comes with no dedicated dollars. But they said it will allow them to use existing money to better fight the crisis.

U.S. President Donald Trump declares the U.S. opioid crisis a national health emergency 0:38

As a result of the declaration, officials will be able to expand access to telemedicine services and include substance abuse treatment for people living in rural and remote areas.

Officials will also be able to more easily deploy state and federal workers, secure Department of Labour grants for the unemployed, and shift funding for HIV/AIDs programs to provide more substance abuse treatment for people already eligible for those programs.

"Anything is better than nothing, but I think what people need right now is help today, and that's something that we're not providing," Israel said.

"Addiction is a strange disease. When someone tells you, 'I need help,' you can't tell them, 'Come back in three days or let's make an appointment to see a specialist.' Something needs to be done right now."

Israel is joining the chorus of critics, including doctors and Democrats, who say that an injection of new funds is needed to properly tackle the crisis that kills more than 100 Americans every day.

Israel is calling for naloxone kits to be made more affordable, for pharmacuetical companies to be held accountable for their role in creating the crisis and for the federal government to launch a nationwide public information campaign.

"What if we just started talking to people and started educating our young ones about the danger of addiction? We're not doing that at all. It's not a co-ordinated effort."

Israel started the non-proft Save The Michaels Of The World in honour of his son. (Submitted by Avi Isreal )

Officials said the administration had considered a bolder emergency declaration, under the Stafford Act, which is typically used for natural disasters like hurricanes. But they decided that measure was better suited to more short-term, location-specific crises than the opioid problem.

Under the Stafford Act, the president could have directed money earmarked for natural disasters to combat the opioid crisis.

"Addiction kills a lot faster than cancer but we're not doing anything to stop people from falling into that pool called addiction," Israel said.

"I think that the population in this country needs to stand up and say enough is enough."

— With files from The Associated Press


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