By Pat Anson, Editor
President Donald Trump said he would declare the opioid crisis a national emergency, just two days after his administration said a declaration wasn’t necessary.
"The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I am saying, officially right now, it is an emergency. It's a national emergency. We're going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis,” Trump said outside the clubhouse of his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey. “We’re going to draw it up and we’re going to make it a national emergency. It is a serious problem the likes of which we have never had.”
In a brief statement after the President’s remarks, the White House said Trump had instructed the administration “to use all appropriate emergency and other authorities to respond to the crisis caused by the opioid epidemic.”
An estimated 142 Americans are dying every day from drug overdoses of all kinds, not just opioids. Prescription painkillers are often blamed as the cause of the problem, although deaths linked to opioid medication have leveled off in recent years. Heroin and illicit fentanyl are currently driving the overdose crisis and in some states are involved in over half of the overdose deaths.
A White House commission last week urged the president to declare a national emergency, but administration officials indicated as recently as Tuesday that such a declaration wasn’t necessary because the administration was already treating the opioid crisis as an emergency.
“We believe at this point that the resources that we need or the focus that we need to bring to bear to the opioid crisis at this point can be addressed without the declaration of an emergency, although all things are on the table for the president,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who chairs the opioid commission, applauded the apparent change of heart.
“It is a national emergency and the President has confirmed that through his words and actions today, and he deserves great credit for doing so. As I have said before, I am completely confident that the President will address this problem aggressively and do all he can to alleviate the suffering and loss of scores of families in every corner of our country,” Christie said in a statement.
“This declaration is only one of many steps we must take on the federal level to reduce the death toll and help people achieve long-term recovery – but it’s a start. I’m committed to working with the President and my fellow commissioners to end the opioid overdose epidemic,” said commission member and former congressman Patrick Kennedy.
It was not immediately clear what steps the administration will take now that an emergency has been declared. A 10-page interim report released by the opioid commission recommends increased access to addiction treatment, mandatory education for prescribers on the risks and benefits of opioids, and increased efforts to detect and stop the flow of illicit fentanyl into the country.
There are no specific recommendations aimed at reducing access to prescription opioids, although they could be added to the commission’s final report, which is due in October. Prescriptions for opioid medication – long a target of addiction treatment and anti-opioid activists – have been in decline for several years. The DEA has plans to reduce the supply of many painkillers even more in 2018.
Other measures recommended by the commission:
- Grant waivers to states to eliminate barriers to mental health and addiction treatment
- Increase availability of naloxone as an emergency treatment for opioid overdoses
- Amend the Controlled Substance Act to require additional training in pain management for all prescribers
- Prioritize funding to Homeland Security, FBI and DEA to quickly develop fentanyl detection sensors
- Stop the flow of synthetic opioids through the U.S. Postal Service
- Enhance the sharing of data between prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs)
No estimate was provided on the cost of any of these measures.
In a statement on Tuesday, President Trump suggested that law enforcement and abstinence should be used to address the opioid crisis.
“The best way to prevent drug addiction and overdose is to prevent people from abusing drugs in the first place. If they don’t start, they won't have a problem. If they do start, it's awfully tough to get off," Trump said, according to a White House transcript.