President Donald Trump on Thursday announced his plans to combat the rapidly increasing opioid epidemic in America, beginning with a move that would eventually free up the resources and loosen all the regulations to help fight the deaths due to misusing of drugs, but still falling short of his August promise to declare the epidemic a national emergency.
“This crisis of drug use, addiction, and overdose deaths in many years, it’s just been so long in the making. Addressing it will require all of our effort, and it will require us to confront the crisis in all of its very real complexity,” Trump said in a statement.
Trump would be instructing the acting Secretary of Health and Human Services Eric Hargan to further designate the opioid epidemic as a “public health crisis,” stopping short of designating it as a “national emergency,” as it was recommended in July by the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, a blue ribbon panel which is chaired by the Governor Chris Christie.
This public health crisis designation, once approved, would allow a number of federal agencies to target this particular crisis. HHS will be permitted to make more of temporary appointments of specialists, in order to reduce bureaucratic red tapes for hiring. The Department of Labor would also be able to issue “dislocated worker grants,” which will help the workers displaced by the crisis.
Furthermore, the designation would permit several of the medical policy shifts. It would further expand the telemedicine services, making addressing these substance abuse in rural areas way more easy. And it would allow the shifting of the resources to better address the substance abuse among those with HIV/AIDS.
“As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue. It’s time to liberate our communities from the scourge of drug addiction. It’s never been this way. We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic. We can do it,” Trump had said.
The designation will not add further federal funds to the fight against opioids. While the Public Health Emergency Act is still associated with a Public Health Emergency Fund, Congress has not yet funded that pot in the past several years, a senior administration official had said. The official said that there would be an ongoing conversation between the White House and Congress on allotting a certain amount as fund going forward.
Even with the given the lack of more funding, one expert was still optimistic about the overall strategy to fight the epidemic. Carrie Wade – harm reduction policy director for the R Street Institute, spoke approvingly about the better access to telemedicine and treatment for those with HIV/AIDS.
He said, “I think declaring a public health crisis, that’s accurate. It’s not as big of an event as if it were a national emergency, but I think we’re headed in the right direction there.”
Drugs, especially like opioids, represent a serious and strong threat to Americans’ health and safety. Of the 64,000 overdose deaths in 2016, 78 percent of these deaths were caused by fentanyl, heroin, or prescription opioids. Drug poisoning is the most recurring cause of injury death in the United States, and has outpaced homicide, suicide, and car crashes since 2011. It is the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. 13.6 percent—almost one in seven—of Americans have abused their prescription opioids at some point in their lives.
The public health crisis designation is just among the latest in the Trump administration offensive strategies in the war against opioids. Since January this year, the White House has allocated more than $1 billion in funds for addressing certain substance abuse. The Food and Drug Administration has also imposed newer restrictions meant to limit the over prescriptions.
Law enforcement agencies have always been key in this fight as well. The Department of Justice has targeted the drug dealers, including the first-ever indictments of the Chinese nationals in an opioid trafficking case. And on Saturday later this week, the Drug Enforcement Agency would host another of the national prescription drug take back day, where Americans can drop off their unused prescription drugs with the law enforcement officials. The last one, in April, brought in approximately 450 tons of such unused drugs.
In his speech, President Trump promised further actions to fight opioids in the forthcoming months, including “some very major lawsuits” against individuals and companies that are complicit in the crisis.