On Tuesday, Tom Price, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), led a short press conference to basically tell America that President Trump is not planning to follow the foremost urgent recommendation his commission presented a few days ago: to declare a national state of emergency for the opioid crisis.
“So we believe that, at this point, that the resources that 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,” Price said at the conference. “Although all things are on the table for the president.”
A state of emergency for the opioid crisis would likely be a little nebulous in its execution because the federal laws governing state-of-emergency status were designed for situations involving infectious diseases and natural disasters. Obviously, keeping those with substance use disorders in quarantine—as we might do with tuberculosis, for example—would be useless. And evacuation assistance for those with SUD—as we might do for a massive hurricane—would also serve no purpose.
The real advantages of the state of emergency in this case would be the ability of federal and state authorities to bypass certain rules for the greater good, such as the IMD exclusion, and the ability to tap into the Federal Disaster Relief Fund. Most behavioral health organizations would consider that a valid and welcome response.
Additionally, a state of emergency could also be leveraged to increase resources for law enforcement to shut down pill mills and catch dealers in communities. Catching the bad guys is something the administration has long supported.
But none of this was to be.
Price noted the increasing number of overdose deaths in the country and reiterated that Trump is “committed to solving that problem” but mentioned no other specifics. The opioid crisis really is being looked at as an emergency because of the magnitude of the numbers of lives lost, he said.
According to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released separately, overdose death rates in the third quarter of 2016 reached a record-high of 19.9 deaths per 100,000, and the trend shows a consistent increase over the past nearly two years.