President Donald Trump declared Thursday that the opioid crisis is a national public health emergency. Earlier in the week, Trump administration officials hinted that the President was preparing for a national emergency declaration, which Trump’s own opioid commission recommended.
During an impromptu press availability from his golf club in Bedminster, NJ on August 10th, Trump declared the opioid crisis an “official” national emergency. Trump promised his administration would work to stop the opioid epidemic that has swept the nation.
“The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I’m saying officially, right now, it is an emergency. It’s a national emergency. We’re going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis.”
Statistics show that around 142 Americans die each day from a drug overdose. Deaths due to opioids quadrupled between 1999 and 2015.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine reports that prescription pain pills are responsible 38% of the time, while 62% were related to heroin or other drugs. Opioid drugs are prescribed in the U.S. at a higher rate than any country in the world.
Words Matter When Battling the Opioid Epidemic
Trump’s surprise announcement over the summer stirred expectations across the medical community and federal government. A national emergency designation comes with hefty assistance.
Instead, The White House concluded that declaring a public health emergency was an adequate response.
Calling the opioid crisis a public health emergency instead of a national emergency means fighting the battle without weapons. No access to the funding and resources available for national emergencies, such as hurricanes or flooding. And while renewable, Trump’s order will last for only 90 days.
Stealing from Peter to Pay Paul
The recognition as a public health emergency makes the fight a top priority within the Trump Administration. It allows government agencies to redirect existing money and resources to address the opioid epidemic.
For example, grants for training dislocated–or laid-off–workers could pay for substance abuse programs. Trump’s order also authorizes states to use financing for HIV/AIDS treatment to tackle the crisis. This comes as troubling news to those who would otherwise receive worker training or care for HIV/AIDS.
Increased access to telemedicine services for rural areas without sufficient mental health providers and quickened hiring of medical professionals is provided by the measure.
Advocates Doubt Effectiveness, But Are Hopeful
Health officials and those involved with combating the opioid epidemic were largely supportive of the announcement. However, many feel the Trump move doesn’t adequately address the problem.
Opioid addiction treatment programs are comprehensive and expensive. Oftentimes, patients need long-term care. Besides cost prohibitions, certified opioid treatment programs (OTP) lack sufficient facilities and enough qualified professionals to run them.
Trump’s public health emergency order does deliver access to the Public Health Emergency Fund. As of June, 2016, it carries a whopping $57,000 balance.
While OTP expenses can vary and many patients require more than one treatment, the National Institute on Drug Abuse published example amounts from a forthcoming U.S. Department of Defense study report. Each reflects one initial treatment.
- daily methadone treatment, which includes medication, and integrated psychosocial and medical support services: $126.00 per week or $6,552.00 per year
- twice-weekly buprenorphine therapy, which includes medication and clinic visits: $115.00 per week or $5,980.00 per year
- naltrexone therapy, which includes the medication, its administration, and related services: $1,176.50 per month or $14,112.00 per year
Access to these services are currently covered by most health insurers under two key provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Mental and behavioral health services are essential health benefits, and pre-existing mental and behavioral health conditions cannot be used to increase your rates, deny you coverage, or be imposed spending limits. Each unsuccessful ACA “repeal and replace” bill from the GOP sought to remove both clauses from law.