On Thursday, President Trump finally declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency.
While the declaration will be welcomed by many treatment providers, it isn’t exactly timely. Trump’s opioid task force recommended the action months ago, and roughly a week ago Trump said he would be taking the step, apparently catching his policy team completely off guard.
But now that it’s finally here, it’s worth looking into what it actually means for those on the front lines of the epidemic.
In his remarks announcing the declaration, Trump said, “Nobody has seen anything like what is going on now. As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue. It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction.”
But it appears Trump isn’t putting federal money where his mouth is.
According to a White House press release, the new declaration will address the following areas:
- It will allow for “expanded access to telemedicine services, including services involving remote prescribing of medicine commonly used for substance abuse.”
- It will help “overcome bureaucratic delays and inefficiencies in the hiring process, by allowing the Department of Health and Human Services to more quickly make temporary appointments of specialists.”
- It will allow “the Department of Labor to issue dislocated worker grants to help workers who have been displaced from the workforce because of the opioid crisis, subject to available funding.”
- And it will allow for “shifting of resources within HIV/AIDS programs to help people eligible for those programs receive substance abuse treatment.”
What the designation will NOT do, at least at this point, is allocate addition federal funds to fight the crisis. Because of how Trump issued the declaration, officials can only access money from the public health emergency fund. That fund is reportedly worth only $57,000. Even the smallest of treatment centers have budgets bigger than that.
Simply throwing money at a problem has rarely ever been effective, and funding is certainly not the only solution. But funding is definitely PART of the solution. When you consider the cost of outreach, personnel, medications, and facilities adequate enough to be effective, it becomes instantly clear that more funding is needed.
Given the startling incompetence of Trump’s administration, perhaps we should be thankful anything got done at all. But until the billionaire and his team find a way to get money into the hands of people who need it, don’t expect the crisis to go away anytime soon.