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The opioid emergency declaration is not dead

September 18, 2017
by Julie Miller, Editor in Chief
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During a press conference on Monday afternoon to announce a new initiative to address the opioid crisis, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie separately said that the state of emergency declaration is still in play. Last month, President Donald Trump verbally acknowledged that the opioid issue is indeed a national emergency, but practical developments are on hold until federal officials complete the legwork.

Freeing up funding or prioritizing agency activities can only begin after an executive order is signed. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, officials first must figure out how to design the order appropriately under the law to ensure it is legally sound before moving forward.

In fact, Christie said he spoke to Trump last week, who reiterated his desire to finalize the declaration.

“He considers it a national emergency and has instructed his staff to come up with the appropriate executive order to do that,” Christie said at the press conference.

Christie leads the White House commission that recommended the emergency declaration on July 31, and said, “We had absolute confidence it needs to be done.”

What it means

Harry Nelson, managing partner with Nelson Hardiman LLP, says ultimately the order would comply with the National Emergencies Act and would open up federal disaster relief funds for hard-hit cities and states, which can apply for immediate funding to address opioid-related needs—the same way funds are traditionally available to areas hit by natural disasters. For example, West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio might qualify for instant assistance.

“This could be useful to open clinics, pay for beds in existing facilities, and make naloxone more widely available,” Nelson says.

Second, the declaration could allow a temporary waiver of certain Medicare and Medicaid coverage rules. 

“Medicaid funding in many states limits opioid treatment to short-term outpatient and detox, so the declaration would make it easier for the Department of Health and Human Services and state Medicaid agencies to grant waivers to make residential treatment beds available,” he says.