The Opioid Crisis is Now a Public Health Emergency

President Donald Trump made an announcement at the end of October to the Department of Health and Human Services. This directive was aimed to declare the opioid crisis in the United States a public health emergency. This is a long-anticipated action that addresses the profound, escalating nationwide drug use epidemic.

This vow is set to alleviate the problem of drug addiction and abuse that has swept the United States over the past few decades, and was one of the high priorities of the working-class voters supporting Trump during his campaign. The next step of this process is to escalate further and declare this same opioid process a national emergency, which will prompt allocation of federal funds to address and conquer this problem.

This directive doesn’t release additional funds to deal with the opioid epidemic, which killed close to 60,000 people in 2016 alone. As stated:

“No part of our society, not young or old, rich or poor, urban or rural, has been spared this plague of drug addiction, or this horrible situation that has taken place with opioids. This epidemic is a national health emergency.

As an action initiative to combat this epidemic, President Trump stated that the government would begin to develop advertising that is aimed at persuading American citizens to cease beginning the usage of opioids in the first place. This is almost a call-back to Nancy Reagan’s “Just say no to drugs” campaign in the mid-to-late 1980’s. Trump is quoted as saying:

“This was an idea that I had where if we can teach young people to not take drugs, it’s easier to just not take them. We are going to overcome addiction in America.

Trump also shared the story of his deceased brother Fred, who had struggled with addiction his entire life. Fred had insisted as young adults that the President never drank, advice that he took and has stayed strong to.

The designation of a public health crisis, formally made by acting health secretary Eric Hargan, would allow for some grant money to be used to combat opioid abuse, permit the hiring of specialists to tackle the crisis, and expand the use of telemedicine services to treat people in rural areas ravaged by opioid use, where doctors are often in short supply.

Trump stated that his plan would include requirements that federally managed opioid prescribing facilities be trained in safety practices and protocols for prescribing opioids to patients.  Additionally, the plan would include a federal initiative to develop non-addictive painkillers, and intensify efforts to block shipments of fentanyl manufactured in China into the United States.

Trump also mentioned that the action would suspend a rule currently preventing Medicaid from funding a good number of drug rehabilitation facilities. This action would affect Detox of South Florida and other detox and rehab facilities in a positive way. As stated:

“This cannot be allowed to continue. It is time to liberate our communities from the scourge of drug addiction.

Congressional Republicans as well as law enforcement and physicians’ groups noted that this announcement was a vital first step to building awareness surrounding the crisis, and confronting its causes and life-threatening effects. The chairperson of the AMA’s opioid task force, Patrice Harris, described the act as a move offering necessary flexibility and direct attention to opioid ravaged communities. Harris stated that there is still a good bit of work in the months and years ahead, and that an emergency declaration would serve to add further urgency to the epidemic.

Andrew Kolodny, co-director of opioid policy research at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, said that no emergency declaration would do much to alleviate the impact of opioids without a substantial commitment of federal money and a clear strategy for overhauling the way the United States treats addiction. Dr. Kolodny is quoted as saying:

“What is needed is for the president to seek appropriations from Congress in the billions, so that we can rapidly expand access for effective outpatient addiction treatments. Until those treatments are easier to access than fentanyl or heroin, overdose deaths will remain at record levels.

Although Mr. Trump called the opioid crisis a national emergency over the next month, he did not sign a formal declaration of the designation, and the idea ran into stiff resistance in his administration to making an open-ended commitment of federal funds to deal with an issue that has shown no signs of abating.

Administration officials argued that a national emergency declaration was not necessary or helpful in the case of the opioid crisis, and that the powers associated with a public health emergency were better suited to address the issue. They said the White House would soon send Congress a request for money to combat opioids, with the goal of including it in a year-end spending package.

Beyond the lack of funding, it is unclear how much impact this declaration will have in the short term, given that the President has yet to name key players who would bring it to fruition. That includes a drug czar present to steer strategic opioid treatment operations, and a secretary of health and human services to tailor policies and identify sources of funding.