What’s Actually Happened Since Trump Declared An Opioid Emergency

By Kelly Burch 10/26/18

Critics say the emergency declaration was more for show than to actually resolve the crisis.

Donald Trump

A year ago, President Trump declared a national public health emergency because of the opioid epidemic, vowing that doing so would streamline responses to a health crisis that killed more than 70,000 Americans last year.

However, a new report shows that the declaration has led to little change. 

The report, prepared by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), found that the administration has used just three of 17 available authorities that are activated when the government proclaims a public health crisis. These authorities include, for example, waiving certain administrative processes in order to quicken responses in an emergency.

The Trump administration used one authority to more quickly field a survey of healthcare providers about their prescription practices. The results of the survey will help inform policy decisions going forward, the administration said.

Secondly, authorities waived the public notice period for approval of two state Medicaid demonstration projects related to substance use disorder treatment, which was intended to speed up implementation of the projects, allowing the states to test and evaluate new addiction-related services delivered through Medicaid.

Finally, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) increased support for research on opioid use disorder treatments and gave out information on opioid misuse and addiction.

The Department of Health and Human Services said that more authorities haven’t been used because many of the abilities enabled by the state of emergency declaration are not applicable to the opioid epidemic. Instead, they are designed for response to infectious diseases or natural disaster. 

“HHS officials determined that many are not relevant to the circumstances presented by the opioid crisis,” the report reads. However, the potential for additional responses will be reviewed. “Officials told GAO they will continue to review the authorities as the opioid crisis evolves and in the context of HHS's other efforts to address the opioid crisis.”

Still, critics of the administration say that the fact that so few resources have been utilized demonstrates that the administration’s declaration was more for show than for actually solving the problem. 

“Communities are desperately in need of more help to address the opioid epidemic. President Trump, as this report shows, has broken his promises to do his part,” Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said in a statement reported by Vox.

“I’ve asked this administration time and time again to show what actions they are taking to meaningfully address this crisis. No response. To me, it looks like empty words and broken promises. Hand-waving about faster paperwork and speeding up a few grants is not enough—the Trump Administration needs to do far more to stop the opioid epidemic.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.