Trump Declares Opioid Crisis Public Health Emergency to Mixed Reactions

President Donald Trump with Vice President Mike Pence, then-U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price and Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Seema Verma in March 2017. (Public domain photo by White House photographer Shealah Craighead.)

On Thursday, Oct. 26, President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. The declaration has been met with controversy since many believe the declaration conflicts with what the president has promised in the past.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 91 people a day die due to opioid in America and in 2015 more than 15,000 people died due to prescription opioid overdoses.

Trump has previously stated that the opioid crisis would be declared as a national emergency, which would have made funding from the government immediately available to states struggling to control the crisis.

Critics have argued the funding from such a declaration is not substantial enough to meet the current needs of those affected. Declaring the crisis a public health emergency, rather than a national emergency through the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, means funds will not come from the large government fund covering disasters.

Instead, it will come from the Public Health Emergency Fund which is reported to only have $57,000 currently.

Supporters of Trump’s decision state that this declaration is a necessary action. They claim it will increase awareness about the opioid crisis.  An administration official told CNN that it would also not be the right time to tap into the nation’s disaster fund because it is the same fund that FEMA relies on to combat natural disasters.

The order also loosens some regulations, which will allow states more power in deciding how they want to use federal funds to address the problem. Congress and the White House are working together to find more funding.

Trump has also stated that he plans to get some of the funding through Medicaid, which many view as a controversial move.

On the other side of the spectrum though critics counter this the plan does not go far enough to solve the problem at hand.

Many critics see the president’s move as more a short-term solution or Band-Aid effect rather than a powerful and long-term solution. Democrats have expressed frustration because they feel the president did not make a swift request to Congress about funding.

Leana Wen, the health commissioner for Baltimore, mentioned that after national disasters, huge sums of aid — up to billions of dollars– is swiftly made available to the victims. In an interview with the Washington Post, Wen stated, “The same thing should happen when it comes to stopping an epidemic. We should not have to depend on repurposed dollars that take away from other health priorities.”

However, Republicans, physician’s groups and law enforcement agencies have defended the president’s plan by stating that this is the best step toward raising awareness about the crisis and to combat it.

Furthermore, Republicans argue that a national emergency declaration would not be helpful in the opioid crisis since it is an ongoing problem and Congress is the key to the future of funding initiatives against the crisis.

In an interview with the New York Times, Andrew Kolodny, the co-director of research in opioid policy at Brandeis University, stated “What we need is for the president to seek an appropriation from Congress, I believe in the billions, so that we can rapidly expand access for effective outpatient opioid addiction treatments. Until those treatments are easier to access than heroin or fentanyl, overdose deaths will remain at record-high levels.”

Patrice A. Harris, the chairwoman of the opioid task force in the American Medical Association, stated that the declaration of a public health emergency is “a move that will offer needed flexibility and help direct attention to opioid-ravaged communities.”

In his speech on Oct. 26, President Trump stated, “As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue. It is time to liberate our communities from the scourge of drug addiction. We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic. We can do it.”

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