Op-Ed: White House must formally declare the opioid crisis a national emergency
A little over a month ago, President Trump announced his intention to declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency. He was right—it is an emergency. Drug overdoses killed almost 54,000 people in 2015, and the majority of those deaths involved an opioid. Last year about 12 million Americans misused an opioid, and the overdose death toll rose to 65,000. The opioid crisis is cutting deep scars in our communities, and in some states, is taking more of our loved ones than car accidents, suicides and firearms combined. It is absolutely an emergency and we urge the president to move quickly in formally declaring the opioid crisis a national health emergency.
The four of us serve as the chairs and vice-chairs of the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force in the House of Representatives, which is comprised of 90 members from both parties, and we welcomed the President’s announcement as appropriate to the urgency of the crisis. However, we now believe it’s time for the White House to put legal action to that intention, and formally declare the opioid crisis a national emergency. A declaration of emergency has the potential to make a real difference by making it easier to direct more funding where it is needed, and easing red tape for the agencies combatting this crisis.
We also know that an emergency declaration alone cannot solve the crisis that confronts us. This crisis is a full-spectrum problem that requires a comprehensive response. Earlier this summer we released a bipartisan legislative agenda that speaks to a wide range of concerns, and we look forward to expanding this agenda as our colleagues in Congress continue to introduce innovative solutions. In this polarized political moment, we are grateful that the House of Representatives’ Heroin Task Force is one of the most rigorously bipartisan organizations in Congress. No bill made it to our agenda without bipartisan co-sponsors and the support of all four co-chairs. As we consider the path forward in combatting the opioid crisis, we believe our agenda reflects an emerging bipartisan consensus on specific shared policy objectives:
- Effectively equipping and training our first responders in the use of lifesaving overdose reversal drugs.
- Reforming pain management techniques.
- Providing unique solutions for different groups of Americans like young people, veterans, new mothers and infants.
- Immediately addressing the Medicaid Institutions for Mental Diseases exclusion, an outdated rule that prevents the most vulnerable people in our society from receiving substance abuse treatment just because of the size of the facility they access.
- Providing medical professionals with more information about patients’ addiction histories.
- Ensuring law enforcement professionals have the resources they need to stop the flow of heroin and synthetic opioids into our country and communities.
- Finally, we need to make adequate resources available to meet these objectives.
The President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis reflects this same emerging consensus on next steps. When the commission released its own non-partisan report last month, we were delighted to see significant overlap between our agenda and its recommendations.
None of us can tackle this crisis alone. We all need to act together, federal and local governments, the medical professionals, treatment and recovery providers, the pharmaceutical industry, community organizations, law enforcement and border security, and all of our fellow citizens– all of us working together towards a shared goal of overcoming the epidemic. Here in Congress, we will continue to work across the aisle and fight for our communities and loved ones.