President declares opioid crisis a national public health emergency

by Chris Clancy

October 27, 2017

opioid epidemic

President Donald Trump officially declared the opioid epidemic a “national public health emergency” in an announcement at the White House Thursday, Oct. 26. He added that his Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis is scheduled to deliver its final report next week.

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The announcement included plans to “overcome a restrictive 1970s-era rule that prevents states from providing care at certain treatment facilities with more than 16 beds for those suffering from drug addiction.”

Enacted in 1965, the “restrictive” rule prohibits states from using Medicaid funds to pay many hospitals for mental health services.

Positive Reactions to the ‘Public Health Emergency’ Declaration

Many responded positively to the President’s declaration.

“[The President’s] call to action brings a new level of urgency to the comprehensive strategy HHS unveiled under President Trump, which empowers the real heroes of this fight: the communities on the front lines of the epidemic,” said Acting Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Eric D. Hargan in a statement.

Declaring a nationwide public health emergency enables HHS to accelerate temporary appointments of specialized personnel to address the opioid crisis (pending funding), and work with the Drug Enforcement Administration to expand patient access to telemedicine services for treating addiction. In Fiscal Year 2017, HHS invested almost $900 million in opioid-specific funding to support treatment and recovery services.

Rick Pollack, president, and CEO of the American Hospital Association, said in a statement, “We welcome today’s announcement of a public health emergency and the Administration’s efforts to enhance access to treatment.”

Pollack went on to urge the Trump administration and Congress to take steps like eliminating barriers to treatment created by the Medicaid Institutions for Mental Disease exclusion, sharing of patient substance use records, and comprehensive healthcare coverage while at the same time declaring readiness to work with the administration and Congress.

Not Quite a National Emergency

Yesterday’s announcement diverges from promises made over the summer that he would declare the epidemic “a national emergency,” which many interpreted as a commitment to authorize a presidential emergency under the National Emergencies Act.

The main difference between declaring a public health emergency and a national emergency is that a public health emergency declaration does not include requests that Congress replenish the Public Health Emergency Fund. According to an agency spokesperson, the Public Health Emergency Fund currently has less than $60,000.

There is little question that the opioid epidemic is an emergency of some kind. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 90 Americans die from opioid overdoses each day.

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