When President Donald J. Trump formally declares the opioid crisis a national emergency, as he pledged to do, there must be a commitment of federal dollars and other resources to battle this scourge.
Without such a commitment from the Trump administration, the president’s declaration will ring hollow.
We applaud Trump for parting ways with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and issuing an unequivocal statement about the epidemic.
“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,” the president told reporters during his vacation in New Jersey.
He added that he would be drawing up documents to formalize the declaration soon.
By contrast, HHS Secretary Price isn’t sold on the idea of taking such a drastic step.
“We believe that, at this point, that the resources that we need, or the focus that we need to bring to bear to the opioid crisis can be addressed without the declaration of emergency,” he said.
Price would do well to spend some time in Ohio, which leads the nation in the number of opioid-related overdose deaths.
Indeed, he should visit the Mahoning Valley and talk to local mental health and recovery officials who are on the front lines of this war.
From January through July, Trumbull County, which is consumed by the epidemic, has had 742 overdoses, 40 confirmed overdose deaths and 29 deaths that are in all likelihood overdoses.
April Caraway, executive director of the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board, has been sounding the alarm for quite some time, as have others.
“If we continue at this rate, we’ll exceed the number of deaths we had in 2016.” Caraway told The Vindicator, in reference to Trumbull County. “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.”
Dealing with such a crisis requires the involvement of federal, state and local governments, and a clear understanding of what local mental health and addiction agencies need in terms of money and other resources.
FAIR ALLOCATION OF FUNDS
We’re heartened that President Trump talked about a commitment of “a lot of money” from Washington, but we wonder how the allocation of funds will be handled.
Politics should play no role in the development of federal regulations that would govern the disbursement of dollars.
If the White House is sincere about dealing with the crisis at its epicenter, then Ohio will be at the top of the funding list.
While the relationship between Trump and Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich is strained, we would hope the president and members of his inner circle are able to rise above politics and remember what’s at stake.
According to a report from a special presidential commission headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, there are about 142 deaths each day in America from drug overdoses. To put that number in perspective, the commission noted that the death toll is “equal to Sept. 11th every three weeks.” On Sept. 11, 2001, around 3,000 people were killed in terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.
While the president’s commitment of money is important, there are other recommendations in the commission’s report that must be adopted.
The panel called on the president to “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.
The law has restricted treatment providers’ ability to meet the demand for substance-abuse treatment.
It is noteworthy that the declaration of an emergency to deal with the opioid crisis has bipartisan support in Congress. That’s because the addiction to prescription painkillers, heroin and other opioids crosses economic and racial lines and geographic boundaries.
In other words, this is an urban, suburban and rural problem, which is why there’s broad support in Congress for a formal action by the White House.
President Trump must recognize that time is of the essence.