President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency on October 26. This designation falls short of a national health emergency, which would have immediately unlocked billions in federal funds. Instead, a public health emergency allows the administration’s Health and Human Services (HHS) department to spend fifty-seven thousand on preventative measures.
President Trump’s declaration of a public health emergency will waive some regulations and give states more freedom to use federal funds to fight addictions. It also instructs health agencies to allocate more grant money towards combating the crisis.
The opioid crisis has steadily worsened in the past decade, with drug overdose growing from just under 17,000 year 1999 to over 52,000 in 2015, according to CBS News. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) first labelled it as an epidemic in 2011. Since then, fentanyl, a more potent opiate, has exacerbated the opioid crisis.
The Trump administration has tried to tackle the crisis before this announcement. Last August, Attorney General Jeff Sessions dispatched twelve federal prosecutors to cities particularly hard-hit by the opioid crisis in order to focus on healthcare fraud and opioid scams. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has recently moved to take new measures that would reduce exposure to the drug, including new packaging that would limit the number of pills dispensed.
At the announcement in the East Room of the White House, President Trump said, “No part of our society — not young or old, rich or poor, urban or rural — has been spared this plague of drug addiction and this horrible, horrible situation that’s taken place with opioids.”
The chairwoman of the American Medical Association’s opioid task force, Patrice A. Harris, considers the announcement an important first step. Speaking to the New York Times, she said, “There is plenty of work ahead and the emergency declaration adds further urgency to this epidemic.”
Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Coderre and former Director of Public Affairs for FEMA Rafael Lemaitre told CNN that there is “silver bullet solution to the opioid crisis.” However, they suggest that Congress should appropriate the billions of dollars necessary to expand addiction treatments.
The House currently spends five hundred million dollars per year on treatment programs, but that money will run by next year. The President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction urged Congress to “appropriate sufficient funds” to combat the opioid epidemic. However, it did not indicate a preferred level of funding. According to HHS funds, the administration is in “ongoing discussions” with Congress to find an appropriate spending level.