Just last month, we discussed President Trump’s rumination about possibly issuing a national emergency to combat the opioid crisis in America. And just yesterday, we saw the President take action. He declared the opioid crisis in America – an epidemic that is killing nearly 175 people per day – a national public health emergency, and pledged his Administration’s and the nation’s full resolve to overcoming it.
Trump made this declaration in the East Room of the White House. Effective Thursday, October 26, 2017, he ordered, all executive agencies are to use every appropriate emergency authority to fight America’s opioid crisis. “It will require all of our effort,” he stated. “It will require us to confront the crisis in all of its very real complexity.”
Addiction is a complex disease, we know. For one, it is often joined by other, co-occurring mental health disorders. It also does not discriminate against certain ages, genders, or people of a certain background or upbringing. Anyone can become addicted to drugs—and opiates like heroin and painkillers are of the most addictive substances on the market today. Repeated use of opiates can trigger a physical opiate addiction in four weeks. A psychological dependence to opiate drugs can develop in as little as two days.
Almost one million Americans used heroin last year, the President cited in his speech on Thursday afternoon. More than 11 million abused prescription painkillers. Today, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of unintentional death in the United States, causing more deaths than motor vehicle crashes and gun homicides combined.
Declaring the opioid crisis a public health emergency means that federal agencies will soon expand access to telemedicine in rural areas as well as shift some federal grants toward addressing the crisis. While specific actions are to be determined next week, President Trump said the plan will have “tremendous impact.” He also shed light on a few upcoming initiatives to combat the opioid epidemic:
- His Administration will work to unlock drug treatment for people in need, “very, very quickly”
- Federally-employed prescribers will be required to receive specialized training in safe opioid prescribing
- Certain opioid prescriptions will be limited to seven-day supplies
- One, “truly evil” prescription opioid will be withdrawn from the market completely
- Support for first-responders and medical professionals will be increased, giving them the access they need to treat opiate overdoses and addictions
- The USPS will also work harder to stop the flood of opiates, specifically fentanyl, into the nation
- Non-addictive painkillers and treatments for addiction and overdose will be developed (Trump noted he will be pushing non-addictive painkillers very hard in the future)
- Prevention campaigns will be created to encourage teens not to take drugs
- Better pain management techniques will be developed for our veterans
- Addiction treatment will become available to those in prison, to help them re-enter society as productive, law-abiding citizens
- The Trump Administration is working with the National Institute of Health to develop resources to help fight this devastating opioid epidemic
- They will also overcome an outdated policy currently restricting states from providing addiction care at certain treatment facilities
While it is clear that the President is taking appropriate steps to address the opioid crisis in America, many are concerned that these steps are not enough. Originally, Trump spoke of declaring a “national emergency,” different from a “national public health emergency,” which many interpreted as a promise to authorize an emergency under the Stafford Act or the National Emergencies Act. Either would mean immediate funding towards the opioid crisis. The Stafford Act was previously used to provide recovery money to those communities affected by Hurricanes Maria, Irma, and Harvey.
Instead, Trump declared the emergency through the Public Health Services Act, a more tailored and direct approach, that would also mean less immediate action. One senior White House official stated that this designation will not automatically be followed by additional federal funding for the crisis. Rather, they will work with Congress to fund the Public Health Emergency Fund, though there is no guarantee as to if and when that funding will be provided.
There are, however, great upsides to declaring this a public health emergency, says Tom Coderre, a former senior official in Obama’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: "The most beneficial part of having a public health emergency is you really can marshal public support and then you can bring all the resources of the federal government to bear on it, bringing people from all of the agencies to combat the issue.” That means healthcare, public health, human services, and government agencies all coming together to address the opioid crisis.
This is, without a doubt, an important step towards overcoming the opioid problem in America. However, it is still not an end-all. To move the needle, funding from Congress will be imperative. Until then, each one of us holds a responsibility to this effort: Look out for ourselves, our children, our communities, neighbors, and loved ones. Keep one another healthy, keep ourselves healthy. If someone you love is battling drug addiction or abusing opiate drugs, help them seek the treatment they deserve. Get educated about the dangers of prescription painkillers and opiate drugs. Get educated about the disease of addiction. By doing so, we can come closer to defeating addiction in America.
If you or your loved one is facing a drug problem, please call Turnbridge young adult treatment center at 877-581-1793. We are dedicated to helping young men and women nationwide overcome addiction.
President Trump, towards the conclusion of Thursday’s speech, also urged us all to participate in the National Drug Take-Back Day this coming Saturday, October 28, 2017. National Take-Back Day is a safe, responsible way for Americans to dispose of unused or expired prescription drugs. This effort is designed to prevent teens and young adults from accessing and misusing prescription drugs, as well as to prevent addiction and overdose in the country. To find a collection site near you, please visit https://takebackday.dea.gov/.