- President Donald Trump on Thursday said he will declare the opioid crisis a national public health emergency.
- The White House did not release any details about when or how the declaration would occur, but the move would likely free up funding for fighting the opioid problem and give relevant federal and state agencies more leeway and resources.
- It could also mean the federal government would be able to negotiate reduced pricing for naloxone, which can help reverse an opioid overdose.
Many in the healthcare industry have been pushing for an emergency declaration, but Trump’s announcement during an impromptu press conference was a bit of a surprise. Just two days ago, HHS Secretary Tom Price said a national emergency wasn't necessary and wasn't the best way to combat the epidemic. HHS released a statement praising the declaration, but it did not explain the discrepancy.
A Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis report, released July 31, said declaring a nation emergency was the first and most urgent recommendation, and it would bring more attention to the crisis. “Your declaration would empower your cabinet to take bold steps and would force Congress to focus on funding and empowering the executive branch even further to deal with this loss of life,” the report stated.
With an emergency declaration, disaster funding might become available, and providers could be mobilized to areas with few resources to help people with an opioid addiction. It could also relax certain licensing requirements or regulations limiting the number of patients a provider can help.
Drug policy experts and public health officials have expressed concern with how the Trump administration is addressing opioids. Price has dismissed medication-assisted treatment, which is evidence-based and considered the gold standard for care. Trump’s proposed 2018 budget includes massive cuts to Medicaid, which treats many people with addiction issues. He has also yet to fill several federal positions that are key to fighting the epidemic.
Those worries were certainly not tamped down Tuesday. After a meeting on the opioid issue, Trump presented the crisis as a law enforcement issue, but health experts say diversion programs are more likely to help a person who misuses opioids, and concerns about law enforcement involvement can keep people from seeking care in an emergency. He also said the key is preventing teenagers from taking the drugs in the first place, even though many who develop an opioid addiction do so later in life and after getting a legal, legitimate prescription.
There’s no question opioid misuse has become a crisis. Six states have declared the opioid crisis as a statewide emergency. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 140 people in America die every day from a drug overdose.