President Trump on Thursday called the opioid abuse epidemic a national public health emergency.
"The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I’m saying officially right now it is an emergency," Trump said to reporters from his Bedminster, N.J., golf course. "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."
The statement follows recommendations made in an interim report prepared by the White House's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis and released earlier this week. Paperwork needed to be filed before the emergency declaration would take effect.
Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub welcomed the additional support for the crisis, saying the community will take all the help it can get.
"We've known that this has reached emergency proportions for quite some time," Weintraub said, "and if President Trump calling a state of a emergency means we can devote more attention to eradicate this scourge then I'm all for it."
A bipartisan congressional task force concentrating on heroin and opioid abuse supported the commission's findings and called on Trump to follow the recommendations in the report.
"There are few issues more pressing in our own neighborhoods than the devastation caused by the growing epidemic of opioid and drug abuse,” said Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, R-8, of Middletown, who serves as vice-chairman of the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force. "While community groups, local government and law enforcement have undertaken the herculean challenge of addressing this issue from all its sides, it is clear there is a crucial role for Congress to play in supporting and expanding these efforts."
The commission, formed in March via executive order by Trump, published an interim status report that detailed several recommendations for the executive branch. According to the report, 142 people die every day from opioid overdoses, or the equivalent of the number of Sept. 11, 2001, fatalities every three weeks.
An emergency declaration can "empower (the) cabinet to take bold steps and would force Congress to focus on funding and empowering the executive branch even further to deal with this loss of life," the report says. "It would also awaken every American to this simple fact: if this scourge has not found you or your family yet, without bold action by everyone, it soon will."
The task force and the opioid commission shared similar solutions for further treating and preventing addiction.
Waiver approvals from the president to all 50 states allowing inpatient facilities treating mental disabilities, including substance use disorder, to access Medicaid funds would dramatically increase treatment options, the report says.
The Medicaid Institutions for Mental Diseases prohibits federal funding for residential treatment facilities with more than 16 beds that treat mental illness primarily. Lifting the rule was urged by every governor and treatment providers the commission members spoke to.
"This is the single fastest way to increase treatment availability across the nation," the report says.
Fitzpatrick introduced the Road to Recovery Act in June that would permanently reverse the decades-old restriction on Medicaid, but the bill hasn't moved from the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
By declaring a state of emergency, the report says, Trump could empower Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to grant waivers in lieu of legislation.
The commission and the task force both agree that better education would prevent physicians from overprescribing painkillers, the most common gateway to opioid addiction.
Classes at medical and dental schools and continuing education courses should fully train health care providers on how to prescribe opioids safely and to recognize signs of substance use disorder, the report says.
Federal agencies can help increase the use of medication-assisted treatment for addiction, such as methadone and buprenorphine, the report says. Officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services can write a letter to state health officials requesting Medicaid programs cover all such FDA-approved drugs.
The Department of Justice can also work with HHS and state correctional departments to ensure prisoners with opioid addictions have more access to the rehab medications.
The commission and the strike force also recommend increased availability of naloxone, an overdose counteragent commonly known by the brand name Narcan, and more funding to develop fentanyl-detecting sensors to prevent the powerful opioid synthetic from either crossing the U.S. border or getting sent through the mail.