President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency on Thursday but requested no additional funding for it, freeing up only two cents in funding for each person affected.
Trump's declaration will allow the White House to tap into the Public Health Emergency Fund to address the crisis. The Intercept reports that fund holds only $57,000. According to the latest estimates, 2.6 million Americans are addicted to opioids.
In August, Trump promised he would declare the epidemic a "national emergency." Doing so would have unlocked funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Declaring a public health emergency under the Stafford Act would tap into the Disaster Relief Fund. But The New York Times reports that Trump ran into resistance from members of his administration who didn't want to commit open-ended federal funds to a growing problem. So "public health emergency" and $57,000 is it for now.
In Thursday's official ceremony in the East Wing of the White House, Trump told a personal story about how he became a teetotaler at his alcoholic brother's urging. The president promised “really tough, really big, really great advertising” to urge Americans not to start using opioids, an initiative reminiscent of Nancy Reagan's “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign in the '80s.
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“This was an idea that I had, where if we can teach young people not to take drugs,” Mr. Trump said, “it’s really, really easy not to take them.” Trump also said he would expand telemedicine to address the crisis in rural areas and act to suspend a rule that prevents Medicaid from covering drug-rehab services.
Republicans praised the efforts, while Democrats criticized the lack of funding. "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,” said Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-MA). “Instead of a commitment to emergency funding for our states and communities, President Trump offered empty words and half-measures.”
Yesterday, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced the Combating the Opioid Epidemic Act, which would allot $45 billion for prevention, early detection and treatment of opioid abuse. Senate Republicans had added that amount to their Obamacare repeal bill, which failed.
Andrew Kolodny, the co-director of opioid policy research at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, told the Times that an emergency declaration would not do much to combat the crisis without substantial federal funding and a strategy for overhauling America's addiction-treatment system.
“What we need is for the president to seek an appropriation from Congress, I believe in the billions, so that we can rapidly expand access for effective outpatient opioid addiction treatments,” said Kolodny. “Until those treatments are easier to access than heroin or fentanyl, overdose deaths will remain at record-high levels.”