Trump opioid commission member, public health officials criticize White House response to opioid crisis: 7 things to know

With President Donald Trump's 90-day declaration of the opioid crisis as an official public health emergency set to expire Jan. 23, public health officials and addiction treatment advocates are arguing the administration has not fully leveraged resources available under the declaration to address the crisis, according to a report from Politico.

Here are seven things to know.

1. The declaration of a public health emergency differs from a national emergency designation — typically reserved for natural disasters and terrorist attacks — in that it comes under the department of HHS and is finite. By contrast, national emergency declaration comes under the Stafford Act, is overseen by the Homeland Security Department, is open-ended and provides access to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Disaster Relief Fund, which carries a budget of $4.28 billion. The Public Health Emergency Fund available to HHS to address a public health emergency carries a budget of $57,000. The Trump administration has yet to propose a way to replenish those funds.

2. The lack of new funding is a major sticking point for critics of the Trump administration's response to the opioid crisis, as both policy experts and state public health officials have said it will take billions in funds to address the crisis.

"His thoughts and prayers have helped," said Rahul Gupta, MD, public health commissioner of West Virginia. "But additional funding and resources would be more helpful."

3. An unnamed senior White House official told Politico President Trump is in active discussions with Congress about additional funding to address the opioid crisis. The official also said the administration has made significant efforts to address the opioid crisis over the past year. The official pointed to President Trump's use of "his bully pulpit to draw further attention to this emergency that he inherited."

4. The White House official also said the declaration has allowed federal agencies to prioritize the crisis and that the media campaign President Trump called for is in the works. The official also pointed to legislation signed by the president on Wednesday to boost customs' ability to screen for opioid trafficking. However, this legislation was initially introduced in March 2017, well before the president's declaration.

5. While the declaration of a public health emergency can be renewed, it's unclear how much a difference it would make in the administration's response. Most of the administration's actions to address opioid addiction in America have come from outside of the declaration, such as advancing research into non-opioid pain management and issuing guidance to states to expand access to inpatient treatment. Other measures discussed by the Trump administration, such as allowing physicians to use telemedicine to prescribe medication-assisted addiction treatment services, have not yet come to fruition.

6. The public health emergency designation permitted federal health agencies to hire more treatment specialists and reallocate money to focus on responding to the opioid crisis. An HHS spokesperson declined to provide Politico with details on whether the agency has leveraged these capabilities.

7. Patrick Kennedy, addiction treatment advocate and former Democratic congressman from Rhode Island, told Politico the "unfortunate part is that the declaration conveyed to the public that something was being done, when nothing is actually being done." Mr. Kennedy sat on President Trump's opioid panel, which encouraged the president to declare the nation's opioid epidemic a national emergency under the Stafford Act in its interim report issued at the end of July 2017.

More articles on opioids: 
Federal judge calls for quick resolution to 200+ opioids lawsuits 
Opioid prescriptions down 12% in Pennsylvania: 4 things to know 
Pennsylvania governor to issue disaster declaration for opioid epidemic

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