President Trump turned a speech about the opioid epidemic back on himself Wednesday in Atlanta, insisting he knows the drug companies and foreign countries are rigging the drug market because the system has been rigged against him.
"At long last we are stopping the drug companies in foreign countries from rigging the system. I know all about rigging the system because I had the system rigged on me," the president told the crowd at the Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit Wednesday. "I think you know what I'm talking about. Unfortunately that will be your soundbite tonight, but that's OK. The system was rigged."
The U.S. has seen drug overdose deaths skyrocket in the last decade. Over 70,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2017, compared with just under 17,000 in 1999, according to the National institute on Drug Abuse. First Lady Melania Trump introduced the president Wednesday, saying, "I'm proud of this administration's historic actions to combat this crisis," she told the crowd.
The president spent much of his speech connecting the drug crisis to the lax southern border.
"We're going to have a wall, it is going to be a very powerful wall," the president said. "It is under construction. The media doesn't like that. The media doesn't like talking about it. It is one of many things were doing When that wall is finished we intend to have almost 400 miles of wall built by the end of next year. Were probably ahead of schedule a little bit."
Mr. Trump has been vocal in making the battle against the opioid epidemic a top priority. But the president stopped short of declaring the crisis a national emergency, declaring it a public health emergency instead. Last fall, Mr. Trump signed legislation aiming to find other, less addictive options for treating pain. And Congress has provided billions in funding to address the crisis, but experts say it's still not nearly sufficient.
The president's address also comes a day after federal prosecutors charged a major pharmaceutical distribution company, Rochester Drug Co-Operative Inc., and two of its former executives, with conspiracy to distribute controlled narcotics and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. It's the first time pharmaceutical executives have faced drug trafficking charges.
"Together we are going to end the scourge of drug addiction in America," the president said in October. "We are going to end it or we are going to at least make an extremely big dent in this terrible, terrible problem."
Mr. Trump has blamed much of the drug epidemic on the porousness of the border and suggested the crisis is one of the top reasons for sealing it, even as many drugs come through legal ports of entry.
"I think much of the drugs — the big loads of drugs, and certainly the human traffickers, go not through the ports of entry; they go through the open areas where they don't have walls," the president told supporters in a briefing on drug trafficking at the southern border last month.
He has also pressured China to declare fentanyl — a deadly substance responsible for thousands of deaths in the U.S. — an illegal substance. Fentanyl deaths have increased 1,000 percent in the last six years, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The four-day summit focuses on prevention and treatment of the drug crisis, with counselors, doctors, law enforcement personnel, public health officials, politicians and first responders in attendance.