Opioid Crisis and the White House: A National Emergency of Mixed Messages

written for Inspire Malibu

A little more than a week ago, on August 10, President Trump announced plans to declare a national emergency in lieu of the nation’s crisis of opioid overdose deaths. According to the White House’s own survey, opioid related fatalities now kill 142 Americans every single day.

Just two days earlier, however, on August 8, Trump said his administration’s approach to battling the addiction epidemic would come in the form of law-and-order. “Strong law enforcement is absolutely vital to having a drug-free society,” the president told a room of assembled advisors and reporters.

The about-face from beefing-up law enforcement ranks to declaring a national emergency has many healthcare experts, insurance companies and providers disoriented. On the one hand, Secretary Tom Price, of the Health and Human Service Department, suggested the situation is not an emergency.

“We believe that, at this point, the resources that we need to bring to bear to the opioid crisis can be addressed with declaration of an emergency,” Price said on the same day the president made his law-and-order comments.

Yet the White House Commission on the Drug Crisis, headed up by New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, published a preliminary report suggesting just the opposite; that the a state of emergency must be declared.

“…America is enduring a death toll equal to September 11th every three weeks [from opioid deaths],” writes the commission. “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.”

According to the presidential commission, declaring a state of emergency would allow the federal government to act on the crisis in some of the following ways:

  • Expand access to the opioid overdose antidote naloxone
  • Immediately setup and fund access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
  • Better enforce federal law that requires health insurers to provide equal access to mental health services, including addiction
  • Grant states waiver approvals that eliminate existing regulatory barriers in the Medicaid program that exclude the federal Institutes for Mental Diseases
  • Fund research for better non-opioid painkillers
  • Federal support for state-based prescription drug monitoring programs
  • Increase efforts to stop the influx of the deadly opioids fentanyl and carfentanil

This would be the first state of emergency declared for a crisis of addiction. Normally, states of emergency are declared for natural disasters or infectious disease outbreaks, such as the Zika virus in 2012 and the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009.

Michael Fraser, executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, told The New York Times declaring a state of emergency makes it easier to get resources to problematic areas. Though Fraser followed by saying that “when it comes to opioids, it’s really unclear” how that would work.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to gather data on opioid-related deaths for 2016, analysts at The New York Times went through public health records on a state-by-state basis. Times’ researchers predict that last year’s death toll from opioids, including prescription painkillers and heroin, will land between 59,000 to 65,000, more Americans than died in the Vietnam and Iraq war combined.

During the president’s announcement, he told reporters, “We’re going to draw it and we’re going to make it a national emergency. It is a serious problem, the likes of which we have never had.”

Right after the announcement, NPR reached out to White House officials and asked who would draw up the emergency declaration and asked how it would be enacted. In response, the reporters write that “A spokesman referred [them] back to the president’s remarks.

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2 thoughts on “Opioid Crisis and the White House: A National Emergency of Mixed Messages

  1. […] vast number of these fatalities are caused by fentanyl-laced heroin. The White House called the opioid crisis a national emergency on August 6, though the administrations taken no further action to make the […]

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