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Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency, but is it enough?



President Trump signed a memorandum Thursday declaring the opioid epidemic a public health emergency – a short-term solution to a long-term problem.

“No part of our society, young or old, rich or poor, urban or rural, has been spared the plague of drug addiction and this horrible, horrible situation that has taken place,” he said at the White House.

According to the Center for Disease Control, opioid overdoses killed over 64,000 Americans in the last year alone. That’s over 100 people a day and numbers continue to rise.

“I want the American people to know that the federal government is aggressively fighting the opioid epidemic on all fronts. It will require the resolve of our entire nation,” President Trump said.

While the President reassured the country that the federal government is taking on the epidemic, he left out an answer to an important question, where’s the money?

The public health emergency declaration doesn’t create new funding, but allows for existing money to be directed towards the crisis. Among other changes, it also expands access to medical services to rural areas, hit hardest by the crisis.

Trump’s declaration directs acting health and human services (HHS) secretary, Eric Hargan, to declare a 90-day public health emergency through the Public Health Service Act, which frees up government resources and makes the opioid epidemic a top priority.

According to senior administration officials the order will enable them to:

  • Allow states to shift federal funding from HIV programs toward the opioid epidemic and pour resources into HHS staff to better manage the crisis.
  • Provide National Dislocated Worker Grants, which provide resources to states so they can respond to unexpected events that cause significant job losses, to people with opioid addiction.
  • Allow addicted patients in more rural areas to get access to telemedicine, which helps overcome distance barriers and improve access to medications, such as buprenorphine and methadone prescribed to treat addiction.

But Dr. Andrew Kolodny, Co-Director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative at Brandeis University says, that’s not enough.

“If you are going to call it a public health emergency, you should also be asking Congress to appropriate the funding necessary to tackle the problem,” said Dr. Kolodny.

According to Kolodny, in order to curb the opioid crisis, more preventive measures should be taken to prevent addiction, which includes "cautious prescribing" and "more regulation of pharmacy companies."

“We have to see for the millions of people who are addicted,” he said. “They have access to effective addiction treatment, so they don’t die from their addiction.”

The latest bill passed by Congress was the 21st Century Cures Act. It was enacted with bipartisan support and signed by President Obama. It divided $1 billion in treatment funds to all 50 states over two years.

Senate democrats revealed a bill Wednesday, a day before Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency, that would spend $45 billion over 10 years on the opioid epidemic.

Every year there are a record-breaking number of deaths from opioid overdoses.

“If we take the right steps now we could start to see overdose deaths coming down,” Dr. Kolodny said. “But we are not really seeing that action now.”

Trump’s opioid commission, headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, is expected to release a final report on the crisis Nov. 1. It will be up to Trump and Congress to decide if they want to act on the commission’s recommendation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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