Only Baby Steps from Trump on Opioid Crisis

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Earlier this month President Trump declared the national opioid epidemic a public health emergency. This move takes a few baby steps toward tackling a growing problem.

The country is in the midst of an opioid epidemic, with over 60,000 people dying from a drug overdose in 2016. The National Commission on Combating Addiction and the Opioid Epidemic published a report in August with recommendations for interventions to tackle the crisis. The top priority, according to this report, was for the President to declare a national emergency. The commission, led by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, stated that the goals of this declaration would be to “force Congress to focus on funding and to awaken every American to the simple fact: if this scourge hasn’t found you or your family yet, without bold action by everyone, it soon will.” In this report, the commission directly calls on the President to take action and fulfill his inaugural address promise to stop this epidemic.

On October 26, President Trump finally made the public health emergency declaration, allowing existing resources to be redirected to reducing the number of overdose deaths caused by opioid use. The President also announced that his administration will be launching an advertising campaign to help young people understand the devastation drug addiction brings to people’s lives. While declaration clears the way for a few specific actions that will provide some help—for example, loosening some restrictions on the use of telemedicine for opioid addiction treatment—it falls short of a comprehensive response plan and are limited in scope.

The President’s declaration disappointed many advocates and stakeholders who believe that substantial new federal funding for treatment and recovery is needed to make a dent in this health crisis. A public health emergency does not add funding for addiction treatment, and it expires after 90 days. A public health emergency fund exists, but it is nearly empty. Experts and advocates have also called on the Trump administration to provide a concrete plan to address this growing epidemic – a step Trump has not taken. President Trump’s opioid commission is expected to release its final report at the beginning of November, identifying several additional steps the President and Congress will need to take.

Although there is a national opioid crisis, and there is evidence indicating it is growing in every region of the country, the problems and service gaps in the systems of care for people in need extend beyond opioid dependence. Substance use disorder services for all types of addiction need to be part of the conversation. Let’s use the focus and attention on the opioid crisis as an opportunity to also talk about and address all addiction as an issue of public health.

Monica Villarreal joined the Center in 2016 as a Hogg Mental Health Policy Fellow. She has previously worked on advocacy for disability issues and has policy experience from working at Disability Rights Texas and the American institutes for Research. Villarreal is a native of Monterrey Mexico and moved to Austin in 2010 to attend school at the University of Texas at Austin where she received a bachelor’s degree in Government and Latin American Studies and a Master’s of Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

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