White House to declare opioid crisis a public health emergency

Win McNamee  Getty Images

Win McNamee Getty Images

U.S. President Donald Trump plans to declare a nationwide public health emergency Thursday to address an escalating opioid crisis that killed more than 175 people each day a year ago.

Some 142 Americans died every day from a drug overdose in 2015.

Rep. Frank Pallone, New Jersey Democrat, said the money is being put to good use in his home state but amounts to a "down payment" on what's needed to stamp out the scourge. "But I want the American people to know that the federal government is aggressively fighting the opioid epidemic on all fronts".

President Trump also directed agency and department heads to use all appropriate emergency authorities to reduce the number of deaths caused by the opioid crisis.

Since 2000, more than 200,000 Americans have died from overdoses of prescription opioids. Because of him, Trump said, he had never tried alcohol or cigarettes. And he would tell me, 'Don't drink. And he had a very, very, very tough life because of alcohol, believe me, very, very tough, tough life.

The administration will also launch an ad campaign so that young people can see "the devastation and ruination [drugs cause] people and people's lives". He repeated that pledge this week.

The President urged Congress to add money to a public health emergency fund that hasn't replenished for years and again promised to build a wall along the Mexican border.

All this said, as news of the pending announcement spread, critics of Trump in Washington said the move was still not enough.

Trump first promised to declare a national emergency to combat the crisis on August 10, and repeated that pledge last week.

Declaring a public health emergency, on the other hand, will not on its own release any money to deal with the crisis, though it will allow grant money to be used in efforts combatting the crisis.

Opioids are a type of drugs that include illegal substances, such as heroin, and legal painkillers - medications such as oxycodone, codeine and morphine are all types of opioids.

Public health emergencies expire after 90 days, although the administration says they can easily be renewed.

Trump said he would require prescribers who work for the federal government to "receive, finally, special training" for prescribing opioids.

► Give states the ability to shift federal grant funds from a wide range of public health issues: HIV, diabetes, maternal care - temporarily to opioid treatment programs.

Trump outlined a number of ways the administration will seek to combat the crisis, including working with health professionals across the board, as well as drug enforcement agencies. That's more than two months after he first announced that would be his plan.

Increased access to telemedicine treatment for people in rural areas will also be provided. The Food and Drug Administration has already expanded education requirements around prescribing opioids, officials said. That, they said, would be additional funding from Congress.

The final report of the White House's commission on opioids is due next week.

Humphreys, a former official in the Office of National Drug Control Policy, says that if the president is serious about opioids, he should endorse that bill.

"If the president were truly serious about making a difference in this fight, he would not be pushing a budget that cuts almost a trillion dollars from Medicaid or slashing the budgets of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the National Institutes for Health (NIH) and other health services that are essential in helping people fight and treat addiction". In its 2018 budget, the Trump administration is proposing cutting the agency's budget by almost $400 million.

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