The United States’ increasingly malignant opioid epidemic has galvanized the country in recent years. More than one-third of U.S. civilian, noninstitutionalized adults reported prescription opioid use in 2015, with substantial numbers reporting misuse. With opioid-related deaths nearly quadrupling between 1999 and 2015, time is of the essence. To prevent the problem from becoming more cataclysmic than it has already become, not only is proper recognition necessary, but proper deployment is indispensable. As unpredictable as President Donald Trump has shown himself to be in the past year, he has remained an adamant supporter of a complete overhaul in how opioid addiction is treated. Despite his ostensibly unwavering stance, however, Trump failed to declare the opioid epidemic as a national disaster this past Thursday and has instead announced it as a national public health emergency. The wording here is critical, but regardless of his announcement, this merely lays the foundation for what will remain a widespread and expanding problem if its source fails to be addressed.
There are two paths Trump could have pursued. He either could have, as was anticipated, addressed the epidemic as a national disaster thus placing the issue in the hands of the Stafford Act. This relief program, mainly used for natural disasters would have considerably expanded resource allocation. But, as Rafael Lemaitre, the former communications director for the White House Drug Policy Office echoed, “the Stafford Act is not structured to deal with a long term, complicated public health crisis like the opioid crisis.” Trump instead named the Public Health Emergency Fund as the primary combatant against the epidemic. Although the structure of the fund favors more complex and long-term health crises, the question remains as to whether congressional funding will be expanded for the fund. Regardless, these arguments push along the national narrative, ultimately harboring a more suitable environment for actual progress.
Change, however, calls for more than a national discussion. The effects of Trump’s announcement will be seen in the months to come, but for now we’re left to speculate. Nevertheless, what seems somewhat obvious is the necessity for definitive allocation of funding. As Lemaitre poignantly said, additional funds would act as the “silver bullet solution to the opioid crisis.” Until substantial steps are taken, we must err on the side of caution. Aside from these hurdles, the concerns surrounding this administration continue mount. The efforts to both repeal Obamacare and strip funding from Medicaid would completely hinder a combative effort against the crisis. Obamacare’s mandate helps to enforce treatment, something most Americans with drug use problems would not be able to afford. Additionally, Harvard researchers found that in states with increased Medicaid and naloxone — a drug used to combat overdoses — drug-related deaths decreased considerably.
The proliferation of the opioid crisis is astoundingly anachronistic. Despite both technological and social advancements, people continue to die at the hands of drugs. Eventually, the broader issues of prescription leniency and treatment availability must be addressed. In the meantime, however, the onus lies increasingly on the administration to make proactive policy. It seems as though Trump’s announcement is yet another photo-op, and until the crisis shows any sign of improvement it will become progressively more difficult to assume anything more. quadrupling
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A version of this appeared in the Monday, Oct. 30 print edition. Email Jacob Bass at [email protected]