President Trump is declaring a national emergency over the country’s opioid epidemic, in contradiction to his own statements earlier this week and what Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said just days ago. Despite the whiplash updates on what’s to be done about the addiction crisis, it seems Trump is taking the lead after an official recommendation by the White House commission on the opioid epidemic that a national emergency be declared and stronger measures be taken:
“The opioid crisis is an emergency and I’m saying officially right now it is an emergency. We’re going to draw it up and we’re going to make it a national emergency. It is a serious problem, the likes of which we have never had.”
On Tuesday, following a meeting with Trump, Price insisted that a national emergency should only be used for time-sensitive health crises like Zika or other outbreaks. He asserted, “We believe at this point that the resources we need or the focus that we need to bring to bear to the opioid crisis, at this point, can be addressed without the declaration of an emergency.”
However, the White House commission on the drug crisis recently recommended a program of medication-assisted treatment, which “has proven to reduce overdose deaths, retain persons in treatment, decrease use of heroin, reduce relapse, and prevent spread of infectious disease.” They hoped that an emergency declaration could expand executive powers and allow the president to step in to immediately make sweeping changes to Medicaid and private insurance that would pave the way for greater mental health coverage, including addiction treatment services, and increase access by health care providers to naloxone, an opioid overdose antidote.
Trump has long insisted that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, even if the ounce of prevention takes the form of an enormous, expensive wall along the border between Mexico and the United States. He reiterated this point from his “working vacation” just days ago: “The best way to prevent drug addiction and overdose is to prevent people from abusing drugs in the first place. So if we can keep them from going on and maybe by talking to youth and telling them: ‘No good, really bad for you in every way.’”
There is no word yet on what changed the President’s mind, or what steps he will take to end the opioid epidemic after declaring the national emergency. That, and further discussion from White House experts, are sure to come in the wake of this development.