Opioid crisis a public health emergency
Last Thursday, Oct. 26, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency and announced that the government would take several actions to address the crisis. However, experts are concerned about Trump’s nebulous engagement and his failure to show specific plans.
Opioids are a type of medication that ameliorate pain by enhancing a secretion of the feel-good hormone dopamine. Heroin, hydrocodone, oxycodone, fentanyl and morphine are examples of opioids. Some legal opioids are often used as a medical treatment to relieve patients’ pain. However, because they are extremely addictive, people can easily become dependent on opioids, and overdoses are common (CNN, “Opioid Crisis Fast Facts,” 10.2.2017).
Widespread misuse of opioids began in the late 1990s, when pharmaceutical companies argued that prescription opioid pain relievers are not addictive and safe enough to be used as a treatment. However, when the truth about opioids’ high toxicity was verified, opioids were already being used extensively. In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died due to an opioid overdose, more than 90 each day (NIH, “Opioid Crisis,” 06.2017).
During the event in the White House on Thursday, attended by families affected by opioid abuse, Trump announced, “No part of our society—not young or old, rich or poor, urban or rural—has been spared this plague of drug addiction and this horrible, horrible situation that’s taken place with opioids.” He added, “This epidemic is a national health emergency” (The New York Times, “Trump Declared Opioid Crisis a ‘Health Emergency’ but Requests No Funds,” 10.26.2017).
To prevent opioid abuse, Trump suggested several future plans. First, prescribers will receive a mandatory training about safe practices of opioid prescriptions. Second, the government will focus on inventing non-addictive painkillers. Third, a prohibition of fentanyl, an illegal opioid imported from China, will be intensified.
Finally, the rule in the Affordable Care Act prohibiting Medicaid from funding drug rehabilitation facilities, will be suspended (The New York Times, “Trump Declared Opioid Crisis a ‘Health Emergency’ but Requests No Funds,” 10.26.2017).
Experts agree that Trump has made a significant first step in dealing with the opioid crisis by classifying it not as a criminal justice problem but rather as a public health emergency. Nevertheless, they are worried that his announcement does not contain a clear blueprint.
Trump did not indicate an increase in funding to address the problem. Without financial aid, professionals say that it is barely possible to make significant changes. He also did not discuss lowering the price of naloxone, a drug that neutralizes the effects of opioid overdoses. Moreover, many feel it is essential for Trump not only to focus on illegal opioids, but also prescription drug abuse. Some have also criticized the fact that Trump did not nominate central institutions which will supervise all these processes. In an editorial, the Los Angeles Times argued, “[T]here just wasn’t much to his announcement other than vague commitments, troubling insinuations and missed opportunities” (The Los Angeles Times, “Thousands are Dying. The President Needs to Do More than Bluster on the Opioid Crisis,” 10.28.2017).
The opioid crisis has a serious impact locally, as well, as opioid use has increased in upstate New York in recent years. In 2015, Dutchess County had one of the highest rates of drug-related deaths in the state, with 22 deaths per 100,000 people (SUNY Rockefeller Institute of Government, “By the Numbers: The Growing Drug Epidemic in New York,” 04.20.2017). In May, the state government allocated $200 million of its 2018 budget—$19 million of which will go Dutchess County—for opioid addiction treatment and provention (Chappaqua Patch, Opioid Epidemic: Federal, State Funds to Hudson Valley,” 05.04.2017). It remains to be seen whether the federal government will make similar financial contributions.
—Youngju Chang, Guest Reporter