Last Thursday President Trump stunned some when he declared the opioid epidemic “the worst drug crisis” in U.S history and declared a public health emergency.
In a White House Ceremony, the president stated that “It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction. … We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic. We can do it,”
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse in a 2014 study, more than 2.1 million people in the United states suffered from substance abuse disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers in 2012, and cases have been on the rise.
Over the last 25 years the total number of opioid pain relievers prescribed in the United States has skyrocketed from 76 million prescriptions in 1991 to 207 million prescriptions in 2013, and the United States is the biggest global consumer of medicines like hydrocodone (Vicodin), constituting 100% of the legal world total, and 81% of the market for oxycodone (Oxycontin or Percocet).
The number of unintentional overdose deaths has quadrupled since 1999, and the report also suggested that there is evidence that non-medical use of opioid pain relievers has also led to an increase in heroin abuse in the United States.
While the declaration in itself is an important position to shift focus on the opioid crisis, it did not secure funding which could make any implementation of policy toward fighting opioid addiction contentious as Congress fights for the best mechanisms to secure funding.
Senate Democrats introduced a bill that would devote $45 billion toward the opioid crisis and Republicans have also introduced legislation to secure additional funding toward the opioid crisis.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie stated in a Sunday interview that he expects the President to also request for “billions” of dollars to fight the epidemic in negotiations with Congress.
Christie, who heads the President’s Commission on opioids stated that “I think the president has got to sit down with Congress now and Congress has to put this money in,” Christie added. “The public health emergency fund has only $57,000 in it. So, it’s time to fund that.”
Some critics have stated that there were other mechanisms that could be used toward this cause including using the Stafford act to declare a more sweeping national emergency, as the designation of a public health crisis generally lasts 90 days.
President Trump also suggested that he would seek to limit the use of Medicare funds toward patients admitting themselves in institutions for medical disease, continuing a policy from the 1970s.
However, the declaration is an important first step in bringing the health issue to the national radar. Now the President, Congress, National Institute for Health and health professionals must tackle the causes of the problem from different fronts to change the policy, medical procedures, and public behaviors that contribute toward the opioid crisis.