Trump Fails to Officially Declare Opioid Crisis a National Emergency

Alicia Ault

August 28, 2017

A few weeks after firmly stating his intention to declare the opioid crisis a national emergency, President Donald J. Trump has still not taken the steps necessary to do so.

The president's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis has urged Trump to use his power to declare an emergency, noting that it would help remove barriers and more quickly stem the tide of addiction and overdose deaths.

President Donald Trump (Source: Carolyn Kaster/AP)

The White House says that it took the Commission's recommendations to heart, but is still considering its options.

"The president is considering not just the emergency authorities outlined in the report but other potential options as well, to ensure we're doing all that we can to tackle this crisis head on," a White House spokesman told Medscape Medical News. "The president instructed his administration to take all appropriate and emergency measures to confront the opioid crisis. Right now, these actions are undergoing a legal review," he said.

The delay is concerning, said Jay Butler, MD, president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

"It certainly seems like there's an opportunity here to prevent additional deaths," said Dr Butler, who is also chief medical officer and director of the Alaska Division of Public Health.

Lifesaving Opportunity

There's an opportunity "not only to save lives but to reduce the overall rate of addiction in our country," Dr Butler said.

An emergency would allow states — which rely on the federal government's support — to address "parts of our response that are currently lacking," he added.

For instance, the federal government could end Medicaid's prohibition against paying for treatment for the incarcerated, said Dr Butler. He believes that treating addicted individuals in prisons and jails would not only increase the number of people in recovery but also reduce crime and the need for more incarceration.

A declaration of emergency can activate needed personnel, increase funding, and address procedures and policies, such as the Medicaid prohibition. It can also remove barriers to procurement of drugs such as naloxone by giving the US Food and Drug Administration the authority to fast- track approval of it as an over-the-counter drug, said Dr Butler.

It's also a way to call attention to an issue in the public sphere, he said.

"Regardless of what the federal government does, the states are going to continue to do the work they are currently doing to address the opioid crisis," said Dr Butler.

Six states have declared an opioid-related state of emergency: Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Virginia, Maryland, and Massachusetts.

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