Declaring a Health Emergency
On October 26, 2017, President Trump directed the Department of Health and Human Services to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency. The declaration is widely seen as a necessary step in combatting what has become an increasingly deadly epidemic. More than 59,000 Americans died in 2016 as a result of Opioid-related incidents, most of which were overdoses. These numbers are on pace to grow in 2017.
According to Mr. Trump, “No part of our society – not young or old, rich or poor, urban or rural – has been spared this plague of drug addiction and shit horrible, horrible situation that’s taken place with opioids. This epidemic is a national health emergency.”
Mr. Trump made the declaration in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House which was attended by families impacted by the opioid crisis, members of congress, and administration officials.
The administration intends to take several steps in pursuit of its mission to alleviate the crisis. The President said that the government would create, “Really tough, really big, really great advertising,” designed to convince Americans to not use opioids before they get addicted. The designation of a public health crisis also allows for funding to be spent on opioid abuse, permit the hiring of opioid specialists, and expand telemedicine services in rural areas where the supply of doctors is often far lower than the need.
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Additional steps mentioned by Trump included requiring federally-employed prescribers to be trained in safe practices, a new federal initiative to develop new, non-addictive, alternative pain-killers, and greater efforts to block fentanyl shipments from entering the United States from China.
The move was widely praised by many as a necessary first step in tackling a very serious issue. However, many Democrats criticized the move for failing to go far enough and not providing sufficient funding.
Several unanswered questions remain at this time, including what actions the Department of Health and Human Services will take and who will lead these efforts. One of the most common questions was whether the Department will use its authority to negotiate lower prices for naloxone, a drug that counteracts the effects of opioid overdoses and is widely regarded as critical to fighting the opioid epidemic.
“We are going to overcome addiction in America,” Mr. Trump said.