“We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic,” the President remarked on Thursday afternoon at a press conference. “That is why effective today my administration is officially declaring the opioid crisis a national public health emergency under federal law,” he said.
First Lady, Melania Trump opened up the press conference on a subtle and personal note. “This could happen to any of us,” she said. “Drug addiction could take your friends, neighbors or your family.” She shared about a father she met whose son overdosed on opioids, just eight days before his 21st birthday.
“Don Holman taught me that the stigma of drug addiction must be normalized and talking about it is the only way to do that,” she said.
On Thursday afternoon, the Trump Administration declared a public health emergency to deal with the opioid crisis in the United States, recommended by his opioid commission.
Instead of declaring a National Emergency, Trump is stopping short and declaring a Nationwide Public Health Emergency under the Public Services Health Act. Currently congress spends $500 million a year on addiction treatment programs, but that money runs out next year.
An official at the White House stated, “There is a lot of money already deployed and being used to fight the crisis but we do expect to have conversations with Congress as part of our deal.” This confirms the administration is working on a budget for the issue, however the official declined to provide a specific dollar amount they are requesting.
What This Means
During an impromptu press conference in the White House Rose Garden last week, Trump said that he would officially declare the national emergency when asked why he had not followed through with his initial promise in August. The lack of action has deprived the fight against the deadly drugs a designation that would offer states and federal agencies more resources and power. However, now, three months later, the President spoke with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday, and stated he was going to have a “very big meeting on opioids” on Thursday and will be declaring the opioid epidemic a national emergency “in the very near future.”
For recovery advocates and people who have endured the opioid epidemic personally, one might think that this announcement is a saving grace, and will allow expanded access to combating the epidemic.
However, the new plan does not provide all that we hoped it to be in this crisis. It will provide telemedicine services which will allow doctors the ability to prescribe medications to treat addiction to those in remote locations. It will also speed the hiring process for medical professionals working on opioids, and allow funds in programs for dislocated workers and people affected with HIV/AIDS to be used to treat their addictions.
Public Health Emergency vs. National Emergency
Currently, there are 28 National Emergencies. However, the Opioid epidemic will not be one of them. It will not constitute to a full-blown national emergency under the Stafford Act, which would have had wider-reaching powers.The Public Health emergency will not allow the government to tap into FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund. It is an open question whether or not Congress will actually offer more money to fund the emergency. They have not funded a Public Health Emergency in years.
These Public Health emergencies last only 90 days and can be renewed again, however National Emergencies can last for years.
If Trump had declared a National Emergency under the Emergency Assistance Act, (or The Stafford Act) the federal government would have been able to immediately tap into funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund to combat opioids.
Rafael Lemaitre, the former communications director for the White House Drug Policy Office under President Barack Obama stated the designation of a National Emergency would be too broad to put on FEMA. However, Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaboration criticizes the choice and calls the announcement “very disappointing.” Without funding for new addiction treatment, he stated declaring a public health emergency isn’t enough. “This is not a plan,” he says. “The administration still has no plan,” for dealing with opioids.”
A White House official argued that declaring nationwide public health emergency was “a better use” than declaring a national emergency under the Stafford Act. More recently, the Stafford Act has provided recovery money from natural disasters like Hurricane, Harvey, Irma, and Maria. The opioid action would be the first public health emergency with a nationwide view since the year long-emergency declared for the H1N1 influenza virus in 2009 and 2010, which fatalaties numbered between, 8,000 and 18,000 in the United States. However, the data from the National Survey on Drug Abuse and Health, surveyed that 51,200 Americans died from opioids in 2015.
Although this isn’t a natural disaster, I think it’s safe to say that this is a national disaster.
Is It Enough?
Chris Christie, one of the President’s devotees, stated, “By using the Public Health Service Act, as we recommended, the President is showing an unprecedented commitment to fighting this epidemic and placing the weight of the Presidency behind saving lives across the country.”
However, Dr. Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University and a former adviser in the Obama administration calls the Trump’s response “pathetic.”
In a briefing earlier this week, the administration said some initiatives to combat the epidemic are already underway. The FDA has already expanded education requirements around the prescribing of opioids. Just this week, the director of the Food and Drug Administration told a congressional committee the agency will begin working to promote medication assisted treatment — using methadone, buprenorphine or naltrexone to help addicts in recovery, although that initiative doesn’t carry any weight or additional funding.
A former official at the Office of National Drug Control Policy called Trump’s order “mostly symbolic” but important and can help eliminate some red tape.”It’s a start, but it needs to be backed up with a broader, more holistic strategy and actual funding from Congress if we want to really move the needle on this,” he said.
In the wake of this announcement there are still growing concerns of how the President will follow through thoroughly. One thing he did mention was how he will sit down with Chinese President Xi, next month to discuss the flow of Fentanyl into the United States from China. The U.S. Postal Service and Department of Homeland Security is already strengthening rules to hold back the entrance of the deadly drug. “In two weeks, I will be in China with President XI and I will mention this as a top priority and he will do something about it,” stated Trump.
This epidemic is not going anywhere, anytime soon, however this could be a start to help the issue. What are your thoughts?