President Donald Trump said Thursday he will officially declare the opioid crisis a “national emergency” and pledged to ramp up government efforts to combat the epidemic.
Local mental health and recovery officials applaud the declaration and want to see it implemented as soon as possible with substantial investment.
“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 told reporters during a brief question-and-answer session ahead of a security briefing Thursday at his golf course in Bedminster.
He said he’d be drawing up documents to formalize the declaration soon.
A drug commission convened by Trump and led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie recently called on the president to declare a national emergency to help deal with the growing crisis.
An initial report from the commission noted the approximately 142 deaths each day from drug overdoses mean the death toll is “equal to Sept. 11th every three weeks.”
The reference was to the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001.
Trump received a briefing on the report earlier this week during his 17-day working vacation in New Jersey.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price seemed to suggest after the briefing the president was leaning against the recommendation, arguing the administration could deploy the necessary resources and attention to deal with the crisis without declaring a national emergency.
Still, Price stressed “all things” were “on the table for the president.”
Trump said the nation’s addiction to opioids is “a serious problem, the likes of which we have never had.”
Mahoning Valley politicians and mental health and recovery officials were mostly supportive of the president’s announcement, although some noted it will be meaningful only if it is followed up with action.
“If that leads to some of the other things that were in the initial report being undertaken, that would be fantastic, if that allows us to speed some of these things up,” said Brenda Heidinger, associate director of the Mahoning County Mental Health & Recovery Board, referring to the drug commission’s report.
Local mental health and recovery officials have pointed to one recommendation as being particularly important to expanding treatment opportunities locally. The commission requested the president “rapidly increase treatment capacity” by granting waivers to states to get around a law that prohibits federal Medicaid dollars from going to mental health facilities with more than 16 beds.
That law has restricted treatment providers’ ability to meet the demand for substance-abuse treatment.
Heidinger said she hopes the declaration of a national emergency will allow that recommendation, as well as one that would expand law-enforcement officers’ access to an overdose antidote, to move faster.
April Caraway, executive director of the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board, noted county officials previously called on Ohio officials to declare a state emergency, which Gov. John Kasich has declined to do.
“So many people are dying. We feel like it fits as a state of emergency,” Caraway said. She said between January and July, Trumbull County has had 742 overdoses; 40 confirmed overdose deaths; and 29 deaths that likely will be deemed overdoses.
“If we continue at this rate, we’ll exceed the number of deaths we had in 2016,” said Caraway. “So declaring a state of emergency seems like the right thing to do, since we’re not seeing our numbers go down. We’re seeing them go up.”
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Cleveland Democrat, expressed support for the declaration but urged the administration to follow it up with “meaningful action and investment.”
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, a Cincinnati-area Republican, too, applauded the announcement, and urged continued funding for prevention, treatment and recovery and legislation to “help stop overprescribing, increase the number of treatment beds covered by Medicaid at residential treatment facilities, and help stop the flow of synthetic opioids that are shipped into this country through the postal service.”
U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson of Marietta, R-6th, issued a statement in support of Trump’s decision.
“However, despite today’s decision, this is not a problem we as a country are going to be able to arrest, incarcerate, or legislate our way out of,” he added. “We all have to be in this effort together.”
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, was more critical of the president, saying the declaration is overdue.
“I am alarmed at what appears to be a dangerously uncoordinated response to the emergency unfolding in front of our eyes,” said Ryan, urging the president to “formally issue this order as soon as possible.”
Contributor: Associated Press