The Trump administration is working on releasing a dollar figure for how much federal funding it believes will be needed to help stave off tens of thousands of drug overdose deaths and addictions caused by opioids, the White House indicated Thursday.
"The amount of money that it will take to combat this crisis is huge," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said during the daily media briefing. "We are going to continue to look at the best ways to do that. We are working an inter-agency process to see what that the number looks like. That hasn't been finalized. But we are going to continue looking at every way possible."
She declined to specify a dollar amount or to promise that an appropriation would be made by the end of the year. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is leading the president's commission on opioids, had previously defended the White House for not putting out a funding request or allocating funding directly to the effort, saying that it was Congress's job to appropriate the money.
"That's Congress's job," he said shortly after President Trump directed his administration to declare the opioid epidemic a public health emergency. "Congress's job is to appropriate ... I've read the Constitution. The money starts with them," he said.
The Republican healthcare plan that repealed and replaced portions of Obamacare, which failed to pass this summer, would have allocated $45 billion toward the effort.
"That's, I think, a start," Sanders said when asked whether the White House would peg its request at a similar amount. "But to fully address this we want to make sure that we get it right and make sure that we really address it head on."
President Trump had made combating the opioid crisis a priority, Sanders said, and would be considering various ways to tackle the epidemic, which resulted in 33,000 deaths in 2015, whether from prescription painkillers, heroin, or even stronger drugs such as fentanyl.
"One of the reasons the president has put one of his top people here at the White House, Kellyanne Conway, on this is because he sees it as a priority," Sanders said. "He sees it as a major concern, not just for the White House but certainly for America."