After directive from Trump, HHS declares opioid crisis public health emergency

Eric Hargan, acting secretary for HHS, formally declared the nation's ongoing opioid overdose crisis a public health emergency on behalf of the agency after President Donald Trump publicly directed HHS to do so Thursday.

The move from HHS allows the agency and governors to make temporary appointments to specialists best equipped to address the crisis, expands access to addiction services through telemedicine, and frees up some grant money to address opioid addiction.

"President Trump has made this national crisis a top priority since he took office in January, and we are proud to be leading in this effort at HHS," Mr. Hargan said on Thursday. "His call to action today brings a new level of urgency to the comprehensive strategy HHS unveiled under President Trump, which empowers the real heroes of this fight: the communities on the frontlines of the epidemic."

While many have voiced support for the declaration, questions remain as to what actions the administration or Congress will take to produce additional funding to address the crisis. The declaration of a public health crisis differs from that of a national emergency — a designation typically reserved for natural disasters and terrorist attacks — and does not provide access to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Disaster Relief Fund, which carries a budget of $4.28 billion. Senior White House officials said money to fight the opioid crisis will be largely dependent on budget negotiations and a spending bill Congress must pass by December, according to STAT.

"What we need is for the president to seek an appropriation from Congress, I believe in the billions, so that we can rapidly expand access for effective outpatient opioid addiction treatments," Andrew Kolodny, MD, the co-director of opioid policy research at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., told The New York Times. "Until those treatments are easier to access than heroin or fentanyl, overdose deaths will remain at record-high levels."

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