Trump Declares Public Health Emergency to Fight Opioid Crisis

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday declared a nationwide public health emergency to address an escalating opioid crisis that killed more than 175 people each day last year, proclaiming “we cannot allow this to continue.”

“We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic. We can do it,” Trump said to applause before an audience at the White House.

Trump said urgent action is necessary to confront the drug overdose crisis, which he said is now the “leading cause of unintentional death” in the U.S.

“More people are dying from drug overdoses today than from gun homicides and motor vehicles combined,” he said.

The declaration will give states more flexibility to use federal funds, although it will not provide funds specifically for the opioid crisis. The declaration will also broaden the use of telemedicine, remove some regulations, and shift some federal HIV money to help opioid addicts.

While the declaration does not include funding, administration officials told reporters earlier Thursday they would urge Congress during end-of-the-year budget talks to add money to an emergency health fund that has not been replenished in years.

“An emergency declaration without significant new funds will likely be unsuccessful,” said Becky Salay of Trust for America’s Health, a Washington-based public health research and advocacy group. “The problem is enormous and requires a similar investment in a comprehensive strategy that includes primary prevention.”

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called the declaration “words without the money.”

The president did not declare a more comprehensive national state of emergency as recommended by his Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. A national state of emergency would have provided states access to funding from the Federal Disaster Relief Fund, which is used to help manage response and recovery efforts associated with disasters such as hurricanes.

Administration officials said a national state of emergency would not have been the best approach for a long-term crisis and would not have provided authorities with resources the government does not already have.

Trump signed a presidential memorandum ordering the Department of Health and Human Services to declare the public health emergency and direct all federal agencies to use any emergency powers at their disposal to reduce opioid deaths.

The emergency will be in effect for 90 days and can be repeatedly renewed.

Trump promised on the campaign trail to make the opioid crisis a top priority. Opioid abuse has developed into one of the nation’s most urgent public health issues, according to the U.S. Surgeon General. The Medical Care Journal estimated last year the economic cost of opioid overdoses, dependence and abuse was nearly $79 billion.

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