President Trump officially called upon the Department of Health and Human Services to classify the national opioid epidemic as a public health emergency yesterday, as reported by The New York Times.
The President promised back in August to declare the crisis a “national emergency,” but designating the problem as a “public health emergency” means that no federal funds will be immediately allocated toward treating the epidemic.
Administration officials argued that a national emergency declaration was not necessary or helpful in the case of the opioid crisis, and that the powers associated with a public health emergency were better suited to address the issue. They said the White House would soon send Congress a request for money to combat opioids, with the goal of including it in a year-end spending package.
However, acknowledging the extent of the problem is a step in the right direction. The announcement eases certain restrictions, along with allowing some grant money to go toward hiring specialists and implementing telemedicine to treat a wider swath of the population. According to the Times:
Mr. Trump said his plan would include a requirement that federally employed prescribers be trained in safe practices for opioid prescriptions, and a new federal initiative to develop nonaddictive painkillers, as well as intensified efforts to block shipments of fentanyl, a cheap and extremely potent synthetic opioid manufactured in China, into the United States.
Critics have responded saying that a greater effort needs to be undertaken to solve a problem that took more than 59,000 American lives in 2016 alone.