July 31, 2017

White House Panel Recommends Declaring National Emergency on Opioids


The New York Times

President Trump’s commission on the opioid crisis asked him Monday to declare a national emergency to deal with the epidemic.

The members of the bipartisan panel called the request their “first and most urgent recommendation.”

Mr. Trump created the commission in March, appointing Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey to lead it. The panel held its first public meeting last month and was supposed to issue an interim report shortly afterward but delayed doing so until now. A final report is due in October.

“With approximately 142 Americans dying every day, America is enduring a death toll equal to Sept. 11 every three weeks,” the commission members wrote, referring to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“Your declaration would empower your cabinet to take bold steps and would force Congress to focus on funding and empowering the executive branch even further to deal with this loss of life.”

In addition to seeking an emergency declaration, the commission proposed waiving a federal rule that sharply limits the number of Medicaid recipients who can receive residential addiction treatment.

It also called for expanding access to medications that help treat opioid addiction, requiring “prescriber education initiatives” and providing model legislation for states to allow a standing order for anyone to receive naloxone, a drug used to reverse opioid overdoses.

Some public health experts said the main effect of declaring an emergency would be to make Americans regard the epidemic more urgently.

“It’s really about drawing attention to the issue and pushing for all hands on deck,” said Michael Fraser, the executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

“It would allow a level of attention and coordination that the federal agencies might not otherwise have, but in terms of day-to-day lifesaving, I don’t think it would make much difference.”

The governors of Arizona, Florida, Maryland and Virginia have declared states of emergency regarding the opioid addiction crisis; in Alaska, Gov. Bill Walker has issued a disaster declaration.

In addition to Mr. Christie, the members of the commission are Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts (a Republican), Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina (a Democrat), Patrick Kennedy, a former congressman from Rhode Island (a Democrat), and Bertha K. Madras, a Harvard Medical School professor who specializes in addiction biology.

Dr. Tom Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the Obama administration, said declaring a public health emergency under the Stafford Act, as the commission recommended, was usually reserved for natural disasters like hurricanes.

“This is not a natural disaster; it’s one caused by overprescription of opiates and flooding of illegal opiates into the country,” Dr. Frieden said. “The critical measures for reversing the opioid epidemic are improving prescribing and increasing interdiction of illicit opioids.”

Gary Mendell, the founder and chief executive of Shatterproof, an anti-addiction advocacy group, said an emergency declaration would be “a significant first step towards acknowledging the severity of the crisis we face and the urgent need for action, including national emergency funding and suspending regulatory hurdles that limit our ability to save lives.”

Mr. Cooper said in a statement that he considered the report “incomplete when it comes to making sure all Americans have access to affordable health care, which includes mental health and substance abuse treatment.”

He added, “I urge the commission to make a stronger stand on the accessibility and affordability of health care.”