White House

Trump declares opioid epidemic national emergency – here’s what that means

President Donald Trump is officially declaring the opioid crisis a "national emergency."

Trump told reporters Thursday that the epidemic is a “serious problem the likes of which we have never had” and said he is drawing up documents “to so attest.”

"The opioid crisis is an emergency. And I am saying officially right now: It is an emergency, it's a national emergency. We're going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis," Trump said.

Trump instructed “his Administration to use all appropriate emergency and other authorities to respond to the crisis caused by the opioid epidemic,” the White House said in a statement.

The White House commission tasked with finding ways to combat and treat the country’s growing opioid addition strongly recommended earlier this month that Trump declare a national emergency to battle the issue.

“The first and most urgent recommendation of this Commission is direct and completely within your control,” the commission said in its report. “Declare a national emergency under either the Public Health Service Act or the Stafford Act.”

The Center for Disease Control estimates that 91 Americans die daily from opioid-involved deaths – and a recent study by Dr. Christopher Ruhm suggests that opioid-related deaths are severely underreported.

Trump said he will be drawing up official documents to formalize the declaration. Here’s what that could mean for those working to combat the crisis. 

Access to greater funding  

The commission said that an emergency declaration would persuade lawmakers to allocate more funding to combat opioid addiction.

“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 said in its report.

“People are talking about this more and more, but if the president were to declare this a national emergency, it creates recognition around the country and awareness around the country that this epidemic needs right now."

But a federal declaration would also allow the government to dip into certain funds, possibly including those appropriated to the Public Health Emergency Fund.

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Gary Mendell, founder and CEO of the nonprofit Shatterproof, argued that more funding is needed in order to properly combat the opioid epidemic.

“It gives the president and Congress expedited ways to fund what needs to be funded to save the lives of so many every day and mobilizes the Cabinet to attack this issue,” Mendell told Fox News.

Keith Humphreys, an addiction specialist at Stanford University, told the Washington Post that a federal declaration would open up monetary resources to states from the federal Disaster Relief Fund, “just like they could if they had a tornado or hurricane.”

Create more attention about the issue

Officially declaring an emergency can bring more attention to the health crisis, the commission said.

“It would also awaken every American to this simple fact: if this scourge has not found you or your family yet, without bold action by everyone, it soon will,” the commission said. “You, Mr. President, are the only person who can bring this type of intensity to the emergency, and we believe you have the will to do so and to do so immediately.”

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Mendell agreed, saying that the crisis needs more “attention and awareness.”

“People are talking about this more and more, but if the president were to declare this a national emergency, it creates recognition around the country and awareness around the country that this epidemic needs right now,” he said.

Combat stigma associated with addiction

When asked why an emergency hadn’t already been declared, Mendell blamed the stigma associated with addiction and mental illness.

But the federal declaration of emergency could help change that negative stigma, Mendell said.

Past Declarations

HHS has issued public health emergency declarations in the wake of natural disasters as well as the spread of diseases.

The agency issued its first declaration for the Zika virus in Puerto Rico in August 2016. It was last renewed in April 2017.

Public health emergencies were also declared in New York following Hurricane Sandy in November 2012 and in Missouri following a series of storms and tornados in May 2011. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.