President Donald Trump is expected to give an address today declaring the opioid crisis gripping segments of the country a public health emergency.
Senior administration officials said the declaration is a more appropriate designation than the national emergency declaration Trump has alluded to in the past because the necessary resources and authorities are available under the former.
In March, the president established via executive order a Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and Opioid Crisis that sought to “study the scope and effectiveness of the Federal response to drug addiction and the opioid crisis described in section 1 of this order and to make recommendations to the President for improving that response.”
A report related to the study of the crisis is being prepared for release November 1st, according to senior administration officials.
The declaration, which falls under the Public Health Services Act, Section 319, essentially shifts authority to the Health and Human Services Agency and “authorizes the HHS secretary to lead federal public health and medical response to public health emergencies, determine that a public health emergency exists, and assist states in their response activities.”
Given the absence of a current HHS Secretary following the departure of Tom Price, senior administration officials stressed the importance of HHS in responding to the opioid crisis and blamed “historic opposition and obstruction” of Trump nominees by Democrats in the Senate for holding up the confirmation process of agency heads. Officials said Trump is expected to put foward a new name of someone to lead the HHS soon.
Officials also indicated funding for programs associated with the emergency declaration — which could include expanded access to “telemed” referral services, the temporary appointment of specialists to deal with associated opioid addiction problems, the issuance of Department of Labor grants to states, and the shifting of funds between agencies that share a role in addressing opioid addiction — will be part of end-of-year budget negotiations.
Saying the intent is to bring people out of the “dark night” of addiction, one official noted that the Trump administration “values these lives, and can save these lives.”