President Trump on Tuesday said his administration would "fight" and "win" the U.S. opioid misuse epidemic, but stopped short of calls to declare a national emergency.
White House officials said Trump is still reviewing recommendations from White House Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, which urged him to declare the opioid misuse epidemic a national emergency.
HHS Secretary Tom Price said, "We believe that ... the resources that we need or the focus that we need to bring to bear to the opioid crisis, at this point, can be addressed without the declaration of an emergency, although all things are on the table for the president."
Trump details law enforcement plan
Trump in a speech said his team is focusing on ways to combat the opioid misuse epidemic and "keep youth from going down this deadly path." He said, "The best way to prevent drug addiction and overdose is to prevent people from abusing drugs in the first place."
Trump indicated that his administration would bolster law enforcement strategies to combat opioid misuse and would look to reinforce security on the United States' southern border to try to stop illicit drugs from entering the country.
"At the end of 2016, there were 23 percent fewer federal prosecutions [related to drugs] than in 2011" and "the average sentence for a drug offender decreased 20 percent from 2009 to 2016," Trump said. He continued, "Strong law enforcement is absolutely vital to having a drug-free society," adding, "I'm confident that by working with our health care and law enforcement experts we will fight this deadly epidemic and the United States will win."
Price after the briefing also said the administration would focus on making overdose reversal drugs, such as naloxone, "present as needed and possible" throughout the United States. He added that federal officials are reviewing health privacy regulations and considering whether changes should be made so families of individuals who had experienced and been successfully treated for a drug overdose could be notified.
Ultimately, though, Price said federal officials are still working to draft "a comprehensive strategy" to combat the opioid misuse epidemic that will be presented to Trump "in the near future." He added, "The president certainly believes" that the opioid misuse epidemic is "an emergency" and the administration "will treat it as" such.
Stakeholders expressed mixed reaction to Trump's focus on bolstering law enforcement to address the opioid misuse epidemic.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said, "There is no doubt that this heroin and prescription drug epidemic is a national crisis, and I applaud the president for making this issue a priority."
Linda Rosenberg, president of the National Council for Behavioral Health, said she was disappointed Trump did not announce specific policies to address the epidemic following the White House Commission's latest recommendations. "This kind of takes the wind out of that sail," she said.
Andrew Kolodny, co-director of opioid policy research at Brandeis University, said Trump should declare the epidemic "a national emergency, not just because that would be a symbolic gesture, but it would actually be very helpful depending on how he utilized that authority." For instance, Kolodny said declaring a national emergency could help free up millions of dollars in emergency funding to help states address opioid misuse. In addition, declaring a national emergency could give health care providers greater flexibility when treating Medicaid beneficiaries with opioid misuse disorders.
Still, others said declaring the opioid misuse crisis a national emergency would not change much about how stakeholders are addressing the epidemic. Richard Frank, a professor of health economics at Harvard Medical School, said, "It's symbolic mostly and it actually involves a lot of reporting and paperwork" (Ehley, Politico, 8/8; Ross Johnson, Modern Healthcare, 8/8; Radnofsky/Campo-Flores, Wall Street Journal, 8/8; Baker/Shear, New York Times, 8/8; Oliphant, Reuters, 8/8; Bierman/Levey, Los Angeles Times, 8/8; Winfield Cunningham, "PowerPost," Washington Post, 8/9).
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