President Donald Trump declared Thursday afternoon that the opioid crisis – which is killing more than 100 people each day – is a public health emergency.
“Addressing it will require all of our effort, and it will require us to confront the crisis in all of its real complexity,” Trump said during a speech in the East Room of the White House, where he was joined by first lady Melania Trump and New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie, chairman of a presidential commission on combating the crisis.
“As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue,” Trump said. “It is time to liberate our communities from the scourge. We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic.”
With Trump’s declaration, the federal government will waive some regulations, give states more flexibility in how they use federal funds and expand the use of telemedicine treatment, according to senior administration officials who briefed reporters on Thursday morning.
But the president stopped short of declaring a more sweeping national state of emergency that would have given states access to funding from the federal Disaster Relief Fund, just as they would be following a tornado or hurricane. Officials who briefed reporters said that declaring that sort of emergency is not a good fit for a longtime crisis and did not offer authorities that the government doesn’t already have.
The presidential memorandum signed by Trump on Thursday orders Eric Hargan, the acting secretary of health and human services, to declare a nationwide public health emergency and direct all federal agencies to use any emergency authorities that they have to reduce the number of opioid overdose deaths. The last time that a national public health emergency of this scope was called was in 2009 in response to the H1N1 influenza virus. The emergency will last 90 days but can be repeatedly renewed.
In making his appeal, Trump invoked the story of his late brother, Fred Trump, who died of complications related to alcoholism. The president credited his brother for warning him of the effects of drinking and said a concerted advertising campaign could keep people from becoming addicted to opioids and other drugs.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Jenna Johnson, John Wagner