Opioid Crisis ‘a National Emergency’

Last month, President Trump made an announcement during his working vacation in New Jersey addressing the nation’s opioid crisis.  Trump stated it would be necessary to declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency after receiving feedback from his appointed commission of health officials.

This is the first time Trump has declared a national emergency since taking office, although national emergencies aren’t as rare as one might expect! Counting the newly declared emergency, there are 29 national emergencies currently in effect. The other 28 have been continuously renewed from past presidencies. Declaring a national emergency should ensure that “a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of money,” is spent on the opioid crisis, according to Trump.

What will happen when words are put into motion?

The secretary for health and human services has said that declarations of a national emergency are typically saved “for a specific outbreak of an infectious disease… or a specific location, like Hurricane Sandy,” to quickly funnel government money where aid is needed most (nytimes.com). So, theoretically, declaring the opioid crisis a national epidemic should have a similar effect. Federal resources, like disaster relief funds, would be easily available to areas hit hardest by the opioid crisis. However, a precedent hasn’t really been set for this, and many officials have pointed out that it’s very uncertain what precisely the effect would be once the President’s words become action.

There is one place we can look to see what funding might go towards, and that’s the states that have already implemented a state of emergency because of the opioid crisis- Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Virginia.

States of Emergency

One major cost of the opioid crisis is the drug naloxone, brand name Narcan. This is the medication that can revive someone who has overdosed, literally saving them from the brink of death. These states have used funding from the declaration of emergency to greatly expand access to this lifesaving drug. Advertised online for around $125 per kit, it’s easy to see how costs can quickly add up when kits are being used frequently. Addiction treatment and prevention are expensive undertakings, Ohio spent nearly $1 billion dollars on the opioid crisis last year alone (nytimes.com). States aren’t forced to bear the entire burden of these costs once a national emergency is declared.      

Opioids v. LSD

Trump’s declaration of a national emergency is a drastic and serious action, but some remarks made during the announcement weren’t entirely accurate, which is troubling. Trump said this while discussing the crisis:

“It is a serious problem, the likes of which we have never had… they had LSD and they had certain generations of drugs. There’s never been anything like what’s happened to this country over the past four or five years.”

It’s a confusing statement. While Trump makes it clear that the opioid crisis is more severe than the popularity of LSD in the 60’s and 70’s, drawing the comparison at all seems ill-informed. LSD use and opioid addiction are two very different things. By comparing the two, Trump asks us to view the substances and their use as relatively equal, when in actuality LSD use is not the same as opioid addiction.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, LSD is not considered a highly addictive substance- it will never cause ‘uncontrollable drug-seeking behaviors’ or withdrawal symptoms. Repeated and prolonged use of PCP can be addictive, but for the most part, hallucinogens just aren’t addictive. 

On top of this, the severity of the opioid crisis is in part due to the large numbers of legal prescriptions that were written and acted as a springboard into addiction. There is no basis for comparison- LSD was never prescribed en-masse.

A U.S. Problem?

In the same phrase comparing the opioid crisis to LSD, Trump said something else that calls his knowledge of the subject into question. Trump claimed that the opioid crisis is a “worldwide problem, not just a United States problem.” It’s a troubling sentiment considering that “though the nation has just 4% of the world’s population, the US also has 27% of the world’s drug overdose deaths,” according to the UN’s 2017 World Drug Report (theguardian.com). Clearly, the opioid crisis is a United States problem when we account for nearly a THIRD of worldwide drug overdose deaths.

Trump’s declaration brings to light the severity of the opioid crisis, however by including strange statements that compare opioids to LSD and claim that the U.S. is faring just as well as other countries, the message skews and is not nearly as strong as it might have been. Does it make the announcement less meaningful? Not necessarily, but it does make one wonder how clearly and seriously the Commander in Chief  is thinking- and therefore acting- towards the opioid crisis that has our nation in its grips.


Sources:

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/aug/10/opioid-use-in-us-state-of-emergency-donald-trump

http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/10/health/trump-opioid-emergency-declaration-bn/index.html

https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/hallucinogens

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/10/us/politics/opioid-trump-emergency.html

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