“Unlike many of us, we’ve seen, and what we’ve seen, in our lifetimes, nobody has seen anything like what’s going on now.” Wise words from President Donald Trump this past week during his declaration of the nationwide Public Health Emergency event at the white house.
The country has been well aware that we have been dealing with a nationwide opioid crisis for the last decade, and many were shocked to learn that the President deemed it as a health emergency rather than a National Disaster.
According to New Jersey’s Republican Gov. Chris Christie, “With Approximately 142 Americans dying every day, America is enduring a death toll equal to September 11th every three weeks.”
Health Emergency or National Disaster
The major difference between a state of emergency and a state of disaster are largely the scope and the funding that go into resolving the two issues. While both are technically states of emergency, the President’s declaration of a health emergency means that it will be handled using a different set of funding, namely, the Public Health Service Act rather than the pre-discussed Stafford Act or the Emergency Assistance Act.
Instead, this declaration allows for aid without any increase in federal funding but will be expected to use the funds that are already available in the PHSA and to shuffle funding that is in Grants that are already assigned to deal with the opioid crisis.
Take in mind, that the HHS public health emergency fund has only about $57,000 left in it, according to an administration official. However, there is a possibility to replenish the fund, but it will be up to Congress to increase the amount, and they state that there are also other emergency resources to draw on.
Some experts had made an attempt to urge President Trump to utilize the option of using the Stafford Act or the Emergency Assistance Act which would have allowed the Government access towards emergency disaster relief funds, such as the those administered by FEMA, to immediately combat the opioid crisis. However, administration officials stated that those immediate funds are more designated towards centralized disasters such as hurricanes or wildfires, and the organization has not been designed to combat an ongoing issue such as the opioid crisis.
While both the declarations of a Health Emergency and a National Disaster have advantages and disadvantages, the Health Emergency comes with more budgeting requests through Congress over a period of time, less immediate action, and less funding to address the problem.
Long story short, there is a large chance that this declaration will bring about no change.
According to the former Communications Director for the White House Drug Policy Office, Rafael Lemaitre,”A smarter play here would be for the administration to move beyond this declaration and pass the billions in funding needed to address this crisis. That is how you move the needle on this.”
The main issue here is that Trump’s Declaration revolves solely on shifting existing funds rather than putting up the extra money that is really needed to bring forward some change on the opioid crisis.
Many state representatives, primarily those who the overdose rates have been affecting most, were in a state of disbelief that it has taken the President this long to issue the statement at all.
Massachusetts Sen. Edward J. Markey stated, “America is hemorrhaging lives by the day because of the opioid epidemic, but President Trump offered the country a Band-Aid when we need a tourniquet. Today’s announcement is nothing more than a dog-and-pony show in an attempt to demonstrate the Trump administration is not ignoring the crisis.”
What Else Needs to be Done
While this emergency declaration has definitely brought some awareness from the Trump Administration, it is an issue that Congress, states, and communities have been dealing with for some time now.
The main concern here is that this issue will follow suit with many of the other proposals put forward by the Trump administration, and not much will really come from it. Whether it be due to bureaucratic red tape, or a lack of government funding, many people who have been stricken by the crisis are calling for more action to be taken place by the government.
Trump has declared that he would “bring up” the issue with the Chinese during their next meeting, as a large majority of the Carfentanil that is responsible for the high overdose rates is being imported from China.
There is also the issue here of Big Pharma, which has a hand in the pocket of a majority of Congress members and has pretty much taken no more responsibility than to state that they were going to START working on pain medication that was not addictive.
It has also been reported that there are vacancies in crucial director positions such as the Drug Enforcement Agency and Human and Health Services department that, if filled, would bring about faster change and more sway in Congress. Since there is unclear leadership, many officials report that this act will go nowhere.
So far, the Trump Administration has stated that their best plan of action is to increase anti-drug ad campaigns and to bring more awareness to the dangers of doing drugs. Cue, Nancy Reagan circa 1986, which obviously, fell short of the mark.
Statewide Actions Being Taken
Since many communities have been struggling with this issue for quite some time, there have been local and statewide improvements in the fight against the opioid crisis.
- There are groups out there that are working towards pushing Congress to promote and increase funding for a multi-pronged approach that involves a national prevention strategy (besides increased advertising), greater access to substance abuse treatment, and greater community access towards Naloxone.
- The Christie Commission is moving towards allowing Medicaid to be used in the treatment of substance abuse, which would involve removing a longstanding federal prohibition on the guidelines of Medicaid. Trump did declare that some states could apply for a lift on some of the Medicaid rules, but there has been no word on whether there would be additional funding or expediting of this process.
- Rhode Island is seeking a “Pre-Arrest” diversion program that will allow opioid users the option of receiving substance abuse treatment, rather than immediate incarceration. With the rise of prison populations, and the ability of prisoners to continue drug use on the inside, this could dramatically improve the rates of substance abuse.
Going forward, we can all hope that real action will take place in the fight against the opioid crisis. Those of us who have been dealing with the backlash and the destruction of the epidemic are well aware that more needs to happen than just advertising and re-adjustment of funds.