President Declares Opioid Crisis a Public Health Emergency
Written by Editor   
Wednesday, November 01, 2017 07:18 AM

President Trump has declared the nation’s opioid addiction epidemic to be a “public health emergency," freeing up government agencies to put more resources toward fighting the epidemic.

“This epidemic is a national health emergency, unlike what we've seen in our lifetimes," Trump said. “As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue. It's time to liberate our communities from the scourge of drug addiction. We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic."

“That is why, effective today, my administration is officially declaring the opioid crisis a national public health emergency under federal law, and why I am directing all executive agencies to use every appropriate emergency authority to fight the opioid crisis," he said.

Because Trump declared the crisis to be a public health emergency rather than a national emergency, no additional funds can be allocated -- only existing funds can be used. However, "the administration is working closely with the Congress right now on an end-of-year budget deal. We expect that [funding for] this will be part of that conversation," a senior administration official said.

An example of what declaring a public health emergency can do was provided by Hurricane Harvey in August. That declaration allowed Medicare officials to waive the usual documentation required for reimbursement, so that beneficiaries who had been evacuated from hospitals and nursing homes could receive care at other facilities that didn't have the beneficiaries' health records.

The opioid crisis has not abated, with 64,000 people dying in 2016 from opioid overdoses, the president said more attention should be focused on getting people not to start taking drugs in the first place. “The fact is, if we can teach young people — and people, generally — not to start, it’s really, really easy not to take them. And I think that’s going to end up being our most important thing.”

But Tracy Jackson, MD, of Vanderbilt University said “What we really need to do instead of criminalizing or stigmatizing this is recognize that addiction is a chronic brain disease … and treat it as such.”

Patrice Harris, MD, chair of the Opioid Task Force at the American Medical Association, issued a statement applauding Trump’s action “as a move that will offer needed flexibility and help direct attention to opioid-ravaged communities. Physicians must be leaders in continuing to make judicious prescribing decisions, and consider the full range of effective therapies for pain, including non-opioid and non-pharmacologic options, co-prescribing naloxone, helping patients access medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder and removing stigma, she noted.

Additional federal funding is needed to adequately train additional opioid addiction treatment providers, however, in the absence of funding, there are other steps the administration could take; for example, instituting government policies to reduce the numbers of days and amounts that doctors can prescribe for opioids.

In addition, “requirements for adequate education and training for substance abuse prevention professionals, addiction treatment counselors, physicians, nurses and healthcare providers who are on the front line interfacing with people at risk or struggling with substance abuse are needed.  There is currently no federal certification or licensure for addictions counselors.… There is no required addiction education in medical school for physicians or nurses." 

We also need to train more doctors and healthcare professionals in addiction medicine."