POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

President declares opioid crisis a public health emergency

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

With typical flourish, President Trump declared a 90-day public health emergency to address America’s deadly opioid epidemic. While it gives states more flexibility to combat the crisis, the order on its own commits no new federal funding.

“I am directing all executive agencies to use every appropriate emergency authority to fight the opioid crisis,” Trump said. “Working together, we will defeat this opioid epidemic. It will be defeated. We will free our nation from the terrible affliction.”

But critics say a temporary emergency under the Public Health Services Act falls short of Trump’s repeated promises that he’d declare a more comprehensive national emergency as he’s stated previously.

“It’s a national emergency. We’re going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis,” he said at his country club in Bedminster in August.

“I am disappointed. And the treatment community, I can tell you, will be disappointed,” said treatment advocate James Curtin of Daytop New Jersey.

Many advocates, including Curtin, had hoped for a sweeping national emergency declaration under the Stafford Act with its immediate, FEMA-style, allocation of federal funding. But that met some resistance in the administration.

“We need new money, and that new money has to come from the federal government. And it doesn’t appear that this move right now, today, is going to do that,” he said. “We might need $15 billion, I’ve seen, I’ve read and $15 billion additional dollars. It could be as much as $50 billion additionally to combat this epidemic.”

The federal Public Health Emergency Fund currently contains $57,000. One billion dollars budgeted last year by the Cures Act for states to fight the opioid epidemic is already in the budget pipeline. Trump Thursday ordered federal agencies to devote more resources towards dealing with the epidemic. His order also waives the rule against Medicaid funding for opioid treatment facilities with 16 or more beds and promotes anti-drug education, especially for young people.

Some Democrats weren’t impressed.

“How could he provide more money when he cut $750 billion out of Medicaid? Much of that money going to the problem you and I are talking about here right now? It’s hypocritical,” said Congressman Bill Pascrell.

Gov. Chris Christie applauded Trump’s decision. Christie chairs the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.

In an interim report on July 31, it recommended the president “… declare a national emergency under either the Public Health Service Act or the Stafford Act.” Trump chose the former. Christie said in a statement Thursday, “… the president is showing an unprecedented commitment to fighting this epidemic and placing the weight of the presidency behind saving lives across the country.” Trump handed Christie the pen he used to sign Thursday’s order.

Thirty-three thousand people died of opioid overdoses in the U.S. in 2015. Christie’s opioid commission is expected to issue its final report on Nov. 1.