What would it mean to declare the opioid crisis a national emergency? 5 things to know

President Donald Trump told reporters on Oct. 16 he'd officially declare the nation's ongoing opioid overdose crisis a national emergency this week. The move would be unprecedented on the national scale, according to a report from ABC News.

Official designations of national emergency are typically reserved for natural disasters or terrorist attacks, but as more Americans died of drug overdoses in 2016 than in the entire Vietnam War, the federal government is under increased pressure to address the crisis. The Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, which President Trump established, first recommended he make a declaration of emergency in its interim report released July 31.

Here are five things to know about what a national emergency designation for the opioid crisis would look like.

1. While there is no precedent for declaring a drug crisis an emergency at the national level, six states have officially made disaster or emergency declarations to allocate more resources to reduce opioid overdose deaths.

2. An official emergency declaration could be issued under the Stafford Act or the Public Health Service Act. Such a declaration under the Stafford Act would open up access to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Disaster Relief Fund, which carries a budget of $4.28 billion, according the report.

3. While access to these funds may entice federal officials, a long-term funding commitment could reduce the fund over time and leave the nation unprepared for another natural disaster like Hurricane Harvey. For this reason, if President Trump does make such a declaration, it will likely come under the Public Health Service Act, according to an expert opinion cited by ABC News.

4. However, while such a declaration under the Public Health Service Act could be effective, it would require additional action from the government, as the fund's balance currently sits at $57,000.

5. A crucial component of emergency declaration would be to widely increase access to the opioid overdose antidote naloxone. HHS could permit pharmacies to distribute the drug without prescription under standing orders.

"Family, friends can get that naloxone if they know they're going to be around somebody who is using, and have a higher likelihood of being able to administer that," Rebecca Haffajee, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan's Department of Health Management and Policy in Ann Arbor, told ABC News. "The whole idea is getting more naloxone into more people's hands and getting them to feel comfortable using it."

More articles on opioids: 
Georgia's most populated county files opioid epidemic lawsuit 
FDA Commissioner: Due to previous inaction by the FDA, combating the opioid crisis will 'be far more dramatic' 
AHA launches toolkit to address opioid epidemic

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