Trump: Overdose Crisis a ‘Public Health Emergency’

By Pat Anson, Editor

President Trump today declared the overdose crisis a nationwide “public health emergency,” a legal designation that falls well short of the national emergency sought by his own opioid commission.

The difference between the two is significant. Under a national emergency, the Trump administration could immediately access funds already set aside for disaster and emergency relief. There is little funding currently available -- only about $57,000 -- to pay for a public health emergency.

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Despite the lack of funding, President Trump pledged his administration would act swiftly to end an overdose crisis that he said was killing 7 Americans every hour.

“Nobody has seen anything like what's going on now. As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue.  It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction,” Trump said.

“That is why, effective today, my administration is officially declaring the opioid crisis a national public health emergency under federal law, and why I am directing all executive agencies to use every appropriate emergency authority to fight the opioid crisis.  This marks a critical step in confronting the extraordinary challenge that we face.”

The president said he was awaiting a final report and recommendations from the White House opioid commission, which is expected next week. An interim report by the commission in July strongly urged the president to declare a national emergency.  

Your declaration would empower your cabinet to take bold steps and would force Congress to focus on funding and empowering the Executive Branch even further to deal with this loss of life,” the report said. “You, Mr. President, are the only person who can bring this type of intensity to the emergency and we believe you have the will to do so and to do so immediately.”

Soon after the interim report was released, the president said he would declare a national emergency, but the White House never got around to actually declaring one -- amid reports of division in the administration about what should be done and how to pay for it.

Nearly $1 billion in federal funding to pay for addiction treatment was authorized by Congress in the final weeks of the Obama administration.

The National Safety Council released a statement saying the president’s declaration was “vague at a time when a clear path forward is critical.”

“The federal response must include adequate funding for implementing other evidence-based strategies as well, a move the president himself said is necessary,” the statement said.

Also expressing disappointment was Andrew Kolodny, MD, a psychiatrist and researcher at Brandeis University, who is the founder of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP), an anti-opioid activist group.

"Everything that was mentioned today sounds helpful, but mentioning a few helpful items is not a plan," Kolodny told Time Magazine.

Koldony, who is the former chief medical officer of Phoenix House, said a massive appropriation of $60 billion to subsidize the addiction treatment industry would be needed over the next decade.

The number of people seeking treatment for abuse of pain medication has actually been in decline for years. According to a recent DEA report, there were 128,175 admissions to publicly-funded treatment facilities for painkiller abuse in 2014, a decrease of about 32 percent since 2011.

‘Truly Evil’ Painkiller

President Trump outlined a number of steps his administration has taken or will take to combat opioid abuse. That includes filing lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies for their marketing of opioid pain medication, something many states are already doing.

“I will be looking at the potential of the federal government bringing major lawsuits against bad actors.  What they have and what they're doing to our people is unheard of.  We will be bringing some very major lawsuits against people and against companies that are hurting our people.  And that will start taking place pretty soon,” he warned. 

President Trump said one opioid painkiller was “truly evil” and should be taken off the market immediately because it had a high risk of abuse. That was apparently a reference to Opana ER, an extended released opioid that Endo International agreed to stop selling in July.

The president also praised CVS Health for its plan to limit opioid prescriptions for acute pain to 7-days’ supply and the CDC for launching a public awareness campaign that "put a face" on opioid abuse.