Widespread opiate addiction and overdose have been in the news as a national epidemic for quite some time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 60% of overdose deaths involve an opioid, and more than half a million people died from drug overdoses between 2000 and 2015.
For years, experts have aimed to draw public attention and government resources to this problem. Last week marked a giant step in that direction when President Trump declared the epidemic to be a national emergency.
Read on to learn more about this declaration and how it could affect the fight against opioid addiction in the months to come.
The White House Commission on the Opioid Epidemic
President Trump’s declaration came after the White House commission in charge of examining the opioid epidemic released their findings in a letter to the president. After meeting with and listening to a wide variety of politicians, addiction specialists, nonprofits, and more, the commission outlined several recommendations for action — starting with a call on the president to declare a national emergency.
First, the commission outlined some pressing statistics that capture the extent of the problem our nation is facing. They wrote,
“According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the most recent data estimates that 142 Americans die every day from a drug overdose. Our citizens are dying. We must act boldly to stop it. The opioid epidemic we are facing is unparalleled.”
They went on to point out,
“In 2015, nearly two-thirds of drug overdoses were linked to opioids like Percocet, OxyContin, heroin, and fentanyl. This is an epidemic that all Americans face because here is the grim reality: Americans consume more opioids than any other country in the world. In fact, in 2015, the amount of opioids prescribed in the U.S. was enough for every American to be medicated around the clock for three weeks.”
The commission called on the president to declare a national emergency, writing,
“The first and most urgent recommendation of this Commission is direct and completely within your control. Declare a national emergency under either the Public Health Service Act or the Stafford Act.”
The commission pointed out that a declaration of a national emergency would mean a great deal for funding and awareness, urging President Trump, “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.
It would also awaken every American to this simple fact: if this scourge has not found you or your family yet, without bold action by everyone, it soon will. 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.”
President Trump’s Declaration
On Thursday, August 10th, 2017, President Trump followed through on the commission’s advice while meeting with reporters at a golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
“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. It is a serious problem, the likes of which we have never had.”
Although President Trump is the first to declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency, he is not the first to acknowledge the scope of the problem. In 2016, then President Obama and his administration announced an official Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week.
The goal of that announcement was to expand access to and support for evidence-based prevention, reduce the supply of synthetic opioids and prevent overdose with the help of naloxone.
What to Expect Following Trump’s Declaration of a National Emergency
Trump’s declaration of a national emergency has brought additional much-needed attention to the opioid crisis. This will encourage politicians and those in power to work together towards a lasting solution. We’re already seeing an awareness on a state level, as Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Virginia have each declared a state of emergency.
The exact financial ramifications will depend on the particular type of emergency officially declared, but the declaration should allow states and federal agencies access to more resources to combat the issue. For example, states and cities designated as disaster zones could receive financial support from the Disaster Relief Fund.
In general, this declaration will lead to greater attention and resources being dedicated to fighting an epidemic that has plagued our nation for years, hopefully providing those addicted to opioids greater access to evidence-based treatment.