According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 140 Americans die every day from drug overdoses, 91 of which are related to opioid addiction. On October 26, 2017, surrounded by those who have been directly impacted by this issue, President Trump finally declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency.
“We are currently dealing with the worst drug crisis in American history. Addressing it will require all of our effort,” said President Trump.
Originally, in August, the Trump administration pledged to declare the epidemic a national emergency, but after much deliberation, the White House agreed it would be more appropriate to declare a public health emergency. While this announcement is certainly good news, some skeptics are calling the declaration “underwhelming” and “disappointing.” They are saying the decision lacks bold action, and more importantly, the funding to combat prescription opioid and heroin addiction.
Today we would like to discuss the difference between a public health emergency and a national emergency, and what steps can now be taken as a result of this announcement.
Why Opioid Addiction Was Not Declared A National Emergency
In August, President Trump said he had planned to deem opioid addiction a national emergency, after his Opioid Commission suggested his administration do so. The difference between a national emergency and public health emergency is the scope in which it reaches and the funding that is allocated. Under national emergencies, the Stafford Disaster Relief Act and the Emergency Assistance Act can be utilized. Additionally under the Stafford Act, FEMA funding would be available, but a senior official from the Trump administration said these allocations would not be appropriate, as they are meant for natural disasters.
While some critics believe this should have been the step our President took, many explain why this was simply not suitable. One official explains, “Under the Stafford Act, as unfortunately we have seen on multiple occasions over the last several months, the Stafford Act is designed to respond to mostly natural disasters that are of a very short time duration and a specific geographic region.”
Additionally, many Obama administration officials explained to CNN that declaring a public health emergency was the right call. Rafael Lemaitre, former communications director for the White House Drug Policy Office under Obama said, “I do think the public health service act is a more appropriate route to take than the Stafford Act designation. I worked at FEMA for two years and dealt with multiple disasters. The Stafford Act is not structured to deal with a long term, complicated public health crisis like the opioid crisis.”
He went on to further explain, “The FEMA fund is already running on fumes because of the three hurricanes that hit this year.”
Understanding A Public Health Emergency
When a public health emergency is declared under the Public Health Services Act, federal agencies are directed to provide more grant money that is already in their budget. This designation lasts for a total of 90 days, but the President can renew it as many times as he sees fit, until the problem is addressed. Unfortunately, no immediate and additional federal funding is directed to the opioid addiction epidemic. Nevertheless, a public health emergency gives the administration specific powers to marshal federal, state, and private resources.
By doing so, those powers could utilize the Public Health Emergency Fund to allow more patients to receive telemedicine in rural areas, give state and federal governments more flexibility in hiring Addictions Professionals, and make grants more available to individuals suffering from opioid addiction. One example is the Dislocated Worker Grant, which is usually available to those put out of work due to a natural disaster, but could also be utilized during a public health emergency. According to the Council of Economic Advisers, of the men aged 25-54 who were unemployed, 44% had taken a prescription opioid in the last day. It is important to note that this number does not reach the entire scope of those suffering from opioid addiction, as it does not take into account illicit substances, such as heroin.
Although this is definitely a step in the right direction, more funds will certainly be needed to fight opioid addiction in America. Congress currently spends $500 million a year on addiction treatment services, but those funds will run out in 2018. Recently, a group of senators introduced a bill that would provide $45 billion for opioid addiction prevention and treatment. At this point, it is up to Congress and the Trump administration to approve more funding for the Public Health Services Act. Head of the Opioid Commission, Governor Chris Christie told USA Today, “My view is that this action sends a clear signal from the president that he wants money appropriated into that fund.” He went on to mention, “Today, he’s doing what we asked of him.”
The Trump administration said it plans to work closely with Congress to get the necessary funds appropriated.
Contact Clearbrook Today
If you or someone you know and love is struggling with opioid addiction, or other substance abuse issues, we can help.
For 45 years, Clearbrook Treatment Centers has been providing effective and quality treatment services to the chemically dependent person. Secluded in the beautiful mountains of Northeastern Pennsylvania, you or your loved one will have the opportunity to recover in a peaceful and serene environment.
If you are interested in coming to treatment and getting the help you deserve, please contact our Admissions Specialists today. We are available 24 hours a day to assist you in all of your needs.