President Donald Trump will deem the opioid epidemic a “public health emergency” Thursday, backtracking on previous promises to issue a national emergency declaration.
The president will direct the Department of Health and Human Services under Acting Secretary Eric Hargan to waive certain regulations governing how states can spend federal dollars. The decision, which Trump will announce in an address from the White House Thursday afternoon, gives states hit hard by opioid addiction flexibility on how they direct federal resources to combat rising drug deaths, reports USA Today.
The “public health” declaration is a significant change from the national emergency declaration the White House opioid commission recommended in early August and that Trump promised to deliver on as recently as last week.
“Drug demand and opioid misuse is the crisis next door,” Kellyanne Conway, a senior counselor to the president, told USA Today. “This is no longer someone else’s co-worker, someone else’s community, someone else’s kid. Drug use knows no geographic boundaries or demographic differences.”
A national emergency declaration is historically reserved for natural disasters, but if Trump had given the authority to sidestep Medicaid regulations and privacy laws while freeing up billions in federal funding for the states. The public health declaration does not grant added funds to the states to deal with the crisis.
Trump created the Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis through an executive order March 29 and tapped Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to lead the efforts. In an interim report given to Trump July 31, the commission implored him to declare the crisis a national emergency, noting that “with approximately 142 Americans dying every day, America is enduring a death toll equal to September 11th every three weeks.”
“Can you imagine this country putting up with 17 9/11s every year?” Christie said Sept. 25, according to NJ.com. “It’s unacceptable.”
Christie chided Trump Oct. 11 for failing to enact a formal emergency declaration after promising one in early August.
Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse released Sept. 7 predicts that the addiction epidemic in America will continue to deteriorate, pushing drug deaths to an estimated 71,600 in 2017. If the estimates prove accurate, 2017 will be the second year in a row that drug deaths surpass U.S. casualties from the Vietnam War.
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