President Trump's commission to combat America's opioid epidemic is a "sham," according to commission member Patrick Kennedy, who is blasting Congress for standing aside while tens of thousands of Americans die each year from overdoses of percocet, oxycodone and other prescription opioids.
"Everyone is willing to tolerate the intolerable - and not do anything about it," Kennedy - a former Democratic Congressman - told CNN. "I'm as cynical as I've ever been about this stuff."
Kennedy was appointed to the commission last March as part of Trump's commitment to tackle the epidemic, which claimed the lives of over 49,000 Americans in 2016 alone. Trump also declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency last October, but that move was little more than a rhetorical flourish since the declaration only opened up $57,000 to combat a crisis that costs $504 billion in damages every year.
That financial commitment adds up to less than $2 for everyone who died of an opioid overdose is 2016.
The public health emergency was renewed for another 90 days this month, but without significant funds, the extension won't offer anything more to the issue than lip service, according to Kennedy.
"This and the administration's other efforts to address the epidemic are tantamount to reshuffling chairs on the Titanic," he said. "The emergency declaration has accomplished little because there's no funding behind it...It means nothing if it has no funding to push it forward."
Instead of dealing with the public health emergency last year, Republican lawmakers focused on pushing their tax reform bill through Congress.
"In the context of this tax bill, this thing [the commission] is a charade," Kennedy added. "I have to be true to the way I feel: This is essentially a sham."
And the situation will only get worse, he says, as Congress plans to cut back on funding for Medicaid, which Kennedy considers the "best hope" to combat a raging epidemic that has claimed over 350,000 lives in the last 20 years.
"Forget the crumbling infrastructure," Kennedy said, "we're losing this country from the inside out."
If Kennedy's right, then we won't know the true cost of the Republican tax plan until we tally the opioid death toll for 2017.