At Vertava Health, you’ve seen us write a lot about America’s opioid epidemic. We choose to talk about this topic not just because of the distressing statistics surrounding it, but because we see first hand every day how opioid misuse and opioid addictions are destroying individuals and their families.
While we wish that Vertava Health could help and treat every individual suffering from an opioid addiction, the number of people abusing these drugs is simply too great. In fact, 12.5 million Americans misused opioids in 2015, and this number is only growing.
The bottom line is this: we need help if we’re going to combat the opioid epidemic, save lives and give those suffering a chance at long-term recovery.
By declaring the opioid epidemic a national emergency, we can ensure that this crisis is at the receiving end of some much needed resources. While President Trump has taken preemptive steps by verbally declaring the opioid epidemic a national emergency, he has yet to file the paperwork that would make his verbal declaration a formal one.
With an estimated 142 people dying every day from an overdose, how many lives will be lost to opioid addiction while we wait?
A Timeline of Events
In March of this year, President Trump established the Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis headed by New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie. According to the White House website, the mission of this commission “shall be to study the scope and effectiveness of the Federal response to drug addiction and the opioid crisis and to make recommendations to the President for improving that response.”
The commission, established by an executive order from President Trump, published an interim report in July with various suggestions on how to cope with the epidemic. At the top of their list of suggestions was declaring the opioid epidemic a national emergency.
Taking the commission’s suggestions, President Trump verbally declared the opioid epidemic a national emergency on August 10. At the time, Trump stated: “we’re going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis. It’s a serious problem the likes of which we have never had.”
It’s been a little less than a month since President Trump publicly called the opioid epidemic a national emergency, and a formal declaration from the administration regarding opioids has still not been made. While the White House confirms that the administration is planning on declaring a formal state of emergency, there is no word on when. Unfortunately, the official state of emergency paperwork is key to allocating federal money towards the opioid epidemic and implementing some of the suggestions in the commission’s interim report.
What could declaring a National Emergency look like?
While President Trump has not publicly addressed what he will be doing once the state of emergency is official, declaring a national emergency comes with a specific set of powers and access to money that make a couple of things possible.
- Medicaid could pay for more treatment: Declaring a national emergency could temporarily waive certain federal restrictions, including where Medicaid patients can receive treatment. This would ensure that every person seeking treatment for opioid addiction was given the best possible care and chance at long-term recovery.
- Public health workers: If the emergency is declared under the Public Health Service Act, public health workers would cease working on other projects to focus specifically on helping those with opioid abuse issues seek treatment.
- Increased opioid education: Trump’s commission calls for medical and dental schools to help enhance addiction prevention efforts by mandating every student who could prescribe opioids in their career to take a course in proper pain management. This would also include continual educational courses for professionals. Education is essential to keeping well-meaning doctors from overprescribing and inadvertently getting patients hooked to these highly addictive drugs.
- Expanded access to overdose reversal drugs: The commission recommended that President Trump mandate all law enforcement officers to carry naloxone, the overdose reversal drug that is already being used by paramedics to save lives every day.
- Federal Emergency Management (FEMA) money could be available to states: By declaring the opioid crisis a national emergency, funds normally reserved for natural disasters could be available to fight the opioid crisis. This would provide states with more funds to address the national emergency as they see fit.
Currently, six states have declared a state of emergency because of the opioid epidemic: Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts and Virginia. By doing so, they were able to expand access to the lifesaving drug, naloxone, to first responders. The declarations also helped these states receive federal grants for treatment services and a technology that allows for better overdose reporting.
While there is still a lot of work to be done, these states serve as an example of what will be possible when the opioid epidemic is officially declared a national emergency by the administration.
What’s the holdup?
“We’re going to draw it up and we’re going to make it a national emergency,” Trump stated about his plan of attack for the opioid crisis at an impromptu press conference, making it clear that the administration is planning on declaring a state of emergency.
However, while we are waiting for the right signatures and for the paperwork to go through revision after revision, people are dying. With 142 people dying every day, families are losing their loved ones at an alarming rate. A rate equal to September 11th every three weeks.
Officially declaring the opioid epidemic a national emergency is critical if we want to arrest the rising death toll. It will provide states with the resources, such as increased access to naloxone, to combat the crisis while also expanding access to treatment for those with Medicaid- but how long do we have to wait?
As of today, it’s been 27 days since President Trump verbally called for a state of emergency due to the opioid epidemic. For many, 27 days will seem like a short period of time, but in those 27 days, approximately 3,834 lives have been lost due to overdose. 3,834 families have been devastated, 3,834 chances for treatment and long-term recovery gone.
We need help, and we need it now. Mr. President, we’re looking at you.