Trump Strategy on Opioids May Give Ammo to Critics

Will be 'public health emergency,' instead of broader 'national emergency'
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 26, 2017 10:00 AM CDT
Updated Oct 26, 2017 12:40 PM CDT
Trump Settles on Strategy for Opioid Crisis
President Trump will speak on the opioid crisis Thursday.   (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Trump on Thursday declared the opioid crisis a "public health emergency" but stopped short of the designation of a "national emergency." (Read a recap of his speech here.) That distinction matters because it affects how much federal aid will be made available to states, and while critics think the move isn't sweeping enough, White House officials argue that the president's choice makes the most sense for this particular problem. Here's a look at what the designation will and won't do, including how it aims to increase the use of "telemedicine" to treat patients from afar:

  • No extra money: The move doesn't make more money available to states, reports Politico, though it does give freer reign to redirect existing resources to the opioid problem by relaxing certain federal rules and regulations. Trump may ask Congress for more money before the end of the year.
  • Distinction: A designation of a "national emergency" would have given states other tools to fight the crisis, including access to the federal Disaster Relief Fund used in hurricanes and such, notes the Washington Post. However, White House officials say that designation isn't a good fit for a long-term emergency. Trump used the term "national emergency" himself in August, and his opioid panel, led by Chris Christie, had suggested that designation.
  • Telemedicine: This will expand the use of "telemedicine" to make it easier for people in rural areas such as Appalachia to get treatment. Such patients often live hours away from a doctor, but with telemedicine, "addiction medicine can be prescribed remotely with computer technology," per the Boston Globe. The particulars on how this might work, and any limitations on prescriptions, weren't immediately clear.

  • Aid to individuals: Dislocated Worker Grants will be made available to people with opioid addiction. Typically, such grants go to people put out of work by natural disasters. STAT (as part of its look at what is and isn't in the measure) notes that this move is "subject to available funding."
  • Worry about money: The Health and Human Services fund for public emergencies currently has only $57,000, and Thursday's move will not increase that. "The lack of resources is concerning to us since the opioid epidemic [is] presenting lots of challenges for states' budgets," the executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials tells Politico. "My hope is people will realize with no new money the ball is going to be in Congress' court."
  • Praise and jeers: At the Washington Post, Aaron Blake calls this another flubbed promise because Trump didn't label the crisis a national emergency, instead settling for "not quite a national emergency." But another common sentiment is from Lainie Rutkow of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who tells Vox even the lesser designation "could make a difference, or it could at least jump-start things that would then be helpful in the longer term."
  • Rising toll: The CDC estimates that opioids such as fentanyl, heroin, oxycodone, and hydrocodone killed 34,500 people last year, per the Wall Street Journal.
(More opioids stories.)

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