President Donald Trump on Thursday October 26, 2017, through the Public Health Services Act, directed his acting secretary of health and human services to declare a nationwide health emergency to combat the current opioid addiction crisis in the US. This official declaration allows the executive branch to dip into public health emergency funding. However, this emergency fund only holds a paltry $57,000, and according to one senior white house official the declaration will not automatically be followed by additional federal funding for the crisis. With approximately 2.6 million Americans suffering from opioid addiction – this fund equates to roughly 2 cents per person.
According to a White House Press release, Trump’s declaration allows for shifting of resources within HIV/AIDS programs to help people eligible for those programs receive substance abuse treatment, citing the connection between HIV transmission and substance abuse as an integral factor.
The press release fact sheet also proposes actions that will allow the Department of Labor to issue dislocated worker grants to help workers who have been displaced from the workforce because of the opioid crisis, but that action is described as being “subject to available funding”, and the Trump administration has proposed a 40 percent cut in such dislocated worker grants.
There are also concerns in the treatment community about how other actions by the Trump administration — namely efforts to repeal Obamacare and strip funding from Medicaid — would adversely impact the fight against opioids.
Sen. Bob Casey (D) Pennsylvania, and 13 other Democrats introduced the Combating the Opioid Epidemic Act, which would deliver $45 billion over 10 years to prevention, early detection, and treatment of opioid abuse. The White House also touted over $1 billion in funding that has been allocated for drug addiction and the opioid crisis during Trump’s tenure, but that allocation was passed at the end of 2016 through the 21st Century Cures Act before Trump became president.
Trump also announced a costly initiative ad campaign similar to Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” public service announcements in the 1980s, which introduced America to how a brain on drugs is similar to a fried egg, but did next to nothing to combat drug use.
Thus far the declaration did not commit the federal government to negotiating down the price of naloxone, the anti-overdose treatment which has skyrocketed in cost and pressured local budgets. Several members of Congress have pressed for that in recent weeks.
So Trump’s declaration appears on the surface to guarantee opioid funding as a major agenda item for the end of year omnibus bill, however that omnibus bill also makes appropriations for avoiding government shutdown, a raise in the debt ceiling, and authorization for a number of other health and emergency funding initiatives which could imperil everything in the deal because of the number of moving parts.
The president’s opioid commission is expected to deliver a final report with recommendations and findings by November 1, 2017.