Opioid Panel Wants President Trump to Declare a National Emergency

Commission compares the drug crisis to the 9/11 attacks

A special commission President Donald Trump created in March is calling the opioid crisis a national emergency that should be treated as such. The panel is expected to release its final recommendations in October, The New York Times reports, but it left little doubt about how serious it thinks the drug crisis has become. It is, in fact, the worst drug crisis in the nation’s history, cutting across all socioeconomic lines.

The commission compared the opioid crisis to the 9/11 terrorism attacks. “With approximately 142 Americans dying every day, America is enduring a death toll equal to September 11 every three weeks,” they wrote. “Your declaration would empower your cabinet to take bold steps and would force Congress to focus on funding and empowering the executive branch even further to deal with this loss of life.”

The commission is headed by Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey.

The main effect of declaring the drug crisis a national emergency would be to call public attention to the problem, according to some experts. However, the panel did recommend some concrete measures. It wants the federal government to launch prescriber education initiatives, which would make it easier for states to allow doctors to treat opioid addiction with naloxone, which reverses opioid overdoses. The panel also wants the government to waive a rule that makes it more difficult for Medicaid recipients to get residential addiction treatment.

Just how effective a declaration of emergency might be is debatable.

Michael Fraser, the executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, told the Times that “It would allow a level of attention and coordination that the federal agencies might not otherwise have, but in terms of day-to-day lifesaving, I don’t think it would make much difference.”

On the other hand, Gary Mendell, the founder and chief executive of Shatterproof, an anti-addiction advocacy group, said an emergency declaration would be “a significant first step towards acknowledging the severity of the crisis we face and the urgent need for action, including national emergency funding and suspending regulatory hurdles that limit our ability to save lives.”

Source: The New York Times; July 31, 2017.