On October 26, 2017 President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency. The opioid epidemic has had a devastating impact across the U.S. In 2016 alone, nearly 11 million people in the U.S. abused prescription opioids, which represents the highest per capita consumption in the world.

“Last year, we lost at least 64,000 Americans to overdoses,” President Trump said. “That’s 175 lost American lives per day.  That’s seven lost lives per hour in our country.  Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of unintentional death in the United States by far.”

The 2009 H1N1 influenza virus was the last time a public health emergency of this magnitude was issued. The audience present at the White House for the announcement included elected leaders and recovering addicts and their families from across the nation.

The opioid epidemic satisfies the requirements set by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), under section 319 of the Public Health Service (PHS) Act. To declare a Public Health Emergency (PHE), at least one of these requirements must exist, “a disease or disorder presents a PHE,” or “a PHE, including significant outbreaks of infectious disease or bioterrorist attacks, otherwise exists.”

By declaring a public health emergency, patients in rural areas which have been disproportionately affected by the opioid crisis will have increased access to telemedicine and prescriptions without a physical visit to the doctor. Further, through the Department of Labor, Dislocated Worker Grants will become accessible to workers who have faced addiction and struggle to find jobs as a result. HHS will commit to providing more practitioners in states most prone to this crisis, and the Public Health Emergency Fund will spend its budget towards programs and facilities that will help alleviate opioid addictions. However, questions remain over how far that money will go, as only $57,000 are allocated.

There is existing debate regarding the decision to announce a public health emergency versus a national emergency, because the classification determines what form of funding will be distributed to states. In a national emergency, funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would allocate funds through the Stafford Act to target those who suffer from opioid addiction. In contrast, a public health emergency gives the HHS department priority in receiving money from the Public Health Emergency Fund.

Although addicts in America are the leading consumers of synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, heroin, oxycodone and hydrocodone, the supply often comes from the international market. According to the DEA, China “is by far the most significant manufacturer of illicit designer synthetic drugs.”

In his speech declaring the national public health emergency, President Trump emphasized that appropriate next steps will be taken by his administration to begin resolving the import of synthetic opioids.

“The U.S. Postal Service and the Department of Homeland Security are strengthening the inspection of packages coming into our country,” President Trump said, “to hold back the flood of cheap and deadly fentanyl, a synthetic opioid manufactured in China and 50 times stronger than heroin.”

Suggested Readings:

Trump declares the opioid crisis a public health emergency – The Washington Post

Remarks by President Trump on Combatting Drug Demand and the Opioid Crisis – The White House

Public Health Emergency Declaration Q&As – U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Why Trump called opioid crisis a public health emergency, not a national emergency – San Diego Tribune

The Chinese Connection Fueling America’s Fentanyl Crisis – Wall Street Journal