The US Capitol building in Washington on 10 October 2017. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP
Donald Trump is to order his health secretary to declare a public health emergency in response to the US’s escalating opioid epidemic. But while the announcement that the president intends to “mobilise his entire administration” to combat the crisis will be seen as an important symbolic moment, there will be no new funds to deal with an epidemic claiming 100 lives or more a day.
The declaration, which follows a report from the president’s opioid commission recommending he proclaim an emergency, is for 90 days and can be renewed. Under the health service act, the president will instruct his health secretary to make the declaration. The White House said the administration chose to use health legislation because the alternative of declaring a national emergency is usually reserved for natural disasters. It would also be likely to give more immediate access to large scale funding.
A senior White House official said the crisis is an “urgent priority for the president” and that the declaration under the health service act will help the administration direct additional resources toward some of the worst hit areas, such as expanded access to telemedicine in rural areas of Appalachia where medical resources are limited. It will also allow the administration to appoint specialists and address doctor shortages, as well as direct some money used to treat HIV/Aids toward people within that programme who are also addicted to opioids.
The declaration is not expected to immediately address the mass prescribing of opioid painkillers underpinning the epidemic.
But there will for now be no new money for the kind of measures some state governments are pressing for including greatly increased funding of long term treatment centers.
The White House said it is having a “conversation with Congress” about new funding. It said that the administration has spent $1bn to deal with the crisis since Trump took office although that money was allocated while Barrack Obama was in power.
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