Donald Trump has declared the crisis over opioids as a public health emergency after hinting last week that he would declare the crisis a national emergency. In an earlier speech, Trump vowed to mobilize his administration towards the effort, claiming that “We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic. We can do it.” In an emotional speech, he drew a comparison to his own brother Fred who was addicted to alcohol, promising to end what he called “a national shame,” to thunderous applause.
Trump is signing a presidential memorandum which will direct his Acting Health Secretary Eric Hargan to declare the emergency and allow all federal agencies to take measures to reduce the number of opioid deaths. Trump will also call for states more freedom to direct federal funds to deal with the painkiller addiction crisis.
Proponents of the move praised Trump for raising national awareness for an issue that has swept over America and killed more people than guns, cars, suicide, and murders. The growing addiction to legal painkillers has blighted communities in both rural and urban areas. At current rates, America is losing almost 1,000 people a week to drug overdoses with two-thirds of those being opioid fatalities. On average 144 people die every day from overdoses to legal painkillers.
However, Trump’s declaration is considered to be more symbolic and some feel that a national emergency should have been declared instead. They argue that declaring a public health emergency is a short-term measure, reliant on grants rather than federal funding. The White House plans to use the Public Health Emergency Fund, which reportedly only contains $57,000.
The fact that the administration had sought to cut funding for the National Institutes of Health by $5.8 billion raises questions over the seriousness of Trump’s commitment. While the White House is planning to work with Congress to provide an end-of-year spending package over opioids a national emergency would have immediately unlocked billions of dollars of federal money from a disaster fund. Instead many hope Congress will take more action and secure more money to deal with this crisis. Indeed, Senate Democrats introduced a bill yesterday to put $45 billion toward the epidemic, supported by many Republicans.
The announcement also comes after Tom Marino, Trump’s pick for drug czar stood down after it emerged that Marino supported a bill that made it harder for the Drug Enforcement Administration to deal with distributors and pharmacies accused of irresponsibly dispensing opioids. Tom Price, the previous Secretary of Health and Human Services also resigned after the controversy over Price’s use of chartered jets.
Despite the good intentions, many charities and recovering addicts made it clear that the administration will need a long-term solution to the problem, one that will be both expensive and time-consuming. The public health emergency is a good start but more needs to be done to help addicts recover and cut off access. Recovery and rehabilitation need to be the top priority of those hoping to curb the problem.
Trump has made it clear that he takes the current scourge seriously. He campaigned in the hardest-hit areas and promised to bring an end to the crisis. He has made a good start but actions speak louder than words. Trump needs to stay on top of the situation and ensure that he doesn’t undermine his own efforts.
If he doesn’t, the opioid crisis will become the new ‘War on Drugs’ with devastating consequences.