Yesterday, President Trump made the long-awaited formal declaration that the opioid epidemic is a public health emergency. He announced this action via a speech on the topic at 2 p.m at the White House. In a sweeping statement, President Trump vowed that this generation of Americans would be the generation to see the end of the opioid epidemic. “As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue. It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction. Never been this way. We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic. We can do it,” he concluded According to the president’s speech, 64,000 Americans died from an overdose last year. This means America is losing citizens to overdose at a rate of 175 live every days, or seven lives every hour. With such staggering statistics surrounding the opioid epidemic, the administration’s formal declaration is urgently needed to allocate resources towards finding a solution and saving lives.
Why Did President Trump Declare A Public Health Crisis?
In 2015, it was reported that over 12 million Americans misused prescription painkillers, and this number has only increased with the passing years. To combat the rising number of opioid related deaths, states have expanded access to the life-saving overdose reversal drug, naloxone. Additionally, treatment facilities are developing and growing across the United States to comply with the rising demand for opioid addiction detox and treatment. However, the number of people suffering at the hands of the opioid epidemic is simply too great for treatment facilities, first responders and medical professionals to handle alone. If America is going to successfully overcome this crisis- they’re going to need a lot more resources. [middle-callout] This is where the Trump administration steps in. By declaring the opioid epidemic a public health emergency it will give states more flexibility in how they use federal funds. It will also waive certain regulations that make it difficult for some to get the help they need for their disease. These changes will hopefully allow more people to access the life saving treatment they require. By law, a public health crisis only lasts for 90 days. However, it can be extended by the secretary of the Health and Human Services Department if needed.
How Will This Help?
In August, Trump verbally declared that the opioid epidemic was a national emergency based on a recommendation from his opioid commission. Unfortunately, he never made steps to make his verbal declaration a formal one. While the public health emergency directive falls short of Trump’s original promise to declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency, it still will provide states with much needed and fast-acting resources to combat the rising death toll.
- Expanded Access To Treatment: Easy access to medically-assisted opioid treatment is not readily available for those suffering from opioid addiction in isolated or rural areas. Under the public health emergency, patients will be able to receive prescriptions for medically-assisted opioid treatment via telemedicine and without seeing a doctor in person, which is generally required by law.
- More Public Health Workers: Under the public health emergency, The Department of Health and Human Services will speed up the hiring process in order to train more employees to help those suffering from opioid addiction seek treatment.
- Shift In Federal Funds: The federal government will allow states to temporarily shift the use of federal grant fund to target those with opioid addiction.
- Dislocated Worker Grants: Many Americans have lost their jobs due to opioid addiction. Since the opioid crisis has been declared a public health emergency, The Department of Labor will make grant money available to those who were dislocated by the emergency or those who are having trouble finding work because of their addiction.
- Money From The Public Health Emergency Fund: The remaining money in the Public Health Emergency Fund will be allocated towards finding a solution to the opioid epidemic.
Unfortunately, there is only $57,000 remaining in the Public Health Emergency Fund to allocate to the opioid epidemic- a crisis experts are estimating will cost tens of billions of dollar to properly address. This is a challenge that the White House also understands and officials say the administration is working urgently with Congress to find additional funding. Trump also outlined other actions his administration will be taking in order to combat the opioid epidemic. Some of these initiatives include:
- Funding research to find more effective non-addictive pain management techniques.
- Strengthening the inspection of packages that come into the country.
- Discussing the flow of deadly fentanyl with the Chinese President Xi Jinping.
- Investigating the business and marketing practices of opioid manufacturers.
- Increasing mandatory training for opioid prescribers.
- Renewing efforts to teach children about the dangers of drug use.
While all of these actions are necessary measures to combating the opioid epidemic, they will take time. Time that some who are struggling with opioid addiction don’t have. For this reason, Trump’s declaration was not met with unanimous positivity.
Trump’s announcement disappointed many advocates and experts who are working hard to fight the opioid epidemic’s rising death toll. Some even called the declaration meaningless since it does not provide additional funding other than the money currently in the Public Health Emergency Fund. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said Trump’s action was “woefully inadequate to address the challenge we face.” Beyond the lack of funding, critics are uncertain that declaring the public health emergency will make an impact in the short term, since Trump has yet to decide on a drug czar or secretary of Health and Human Services. Both of these positions are critical to developing new policies about opioid use and identifying sources of funding. However, others are praising Trump for taking any action at all. He is the first president to address the opioid epidemic so strongly. Many are hopeful that the administration’s actions will not only save lives but be a call to action for others to step up and participate in the fight against addiction. As President Trump stated in his address today, the opioid epidemic has affected people all across the country- regardless of age, race, or economic status. If America wants to successfully overcome this crisis, everyone has to play a part in finding a solution.