On Thursday, US president Trump will announce a major move in the battle against America’s opioid crisis: He will direct that the Department of Health and Human Services declare it a public health emergency.
The action has been long-anticipated as use of opioids has rapidly escalated to a full-blown epidemic. A recent federal count found that deaths from the use of fentanyl has skyrocketed nearly 540 per cent over the past three years, killing more than 60,000 people in the United States last year alone.
But Trump’s move falls short of initial promises to declare America’s opioid use a national emergency, which would have ear-marked federal funding to address the problem.
Declaring a public health emergency, on the other hand, will not on its own release any money to deal with the crisis, though it will allow grant money to be used in efforts combatting the crisis. The move will likely also relax certain laws and regulations in order to better address the still-growing crisis. And Trump officials told reporters that it would expand access to medical care in rural areas through things like telemedicine.
Trump is slated to announce the plan at the White House Thursday afternoon before signing a presidential memorandum on opioids. While tackling opioid abuse was a major talking point on the campaign trail, Thursday’s announcement will be the first significant step he has taken towards making good on promises to make drug abuse a top priority.
All this said, as news of the pending announcement spread, critics of Trump in Washington said the move was still not enough.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told The Washington Post that the announcement comes at the same time as proposed cuts to programs aimed at opioids abuse like Medicaid.
Trump’s statements, she said, are “words without the money.”