Trump Declares Opioid Crisis Is ‘National Emergency’

MacArthur’s Bipartisan Task Force Was Influence
Aug 15, 2017

President Donald Trump has declared the opioid crisis a national emergency.

“The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I’m saying officially, right now, it is an emergency,” Trump said at his golf club in Bedminster on Aug. 10. “It’s a national emergency. We’re going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis.”

The president was responding to a preliminary report issued July 31 by the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, headed by N.J. Gov. Chris Christie.

“With approximately 142 Americans dying every day,” reads the report, “America is enduring a death toll equal to September 11th (2001) every three weeks.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that opioids alone, including heroin and prescription painkillers, killed more than 33,000 people in 2015. The New York Times, not waiting until December for the CDC to tabulate the 2016 numbers, compiled estimates from hundreds of state health departments, county coroners and medical examiners and reported in June that last year’s drug overdose total from all drugs “likely exceeded 59,000.”

Ocean County certainly contributes to that total. According to Al Della Fave, spokesman for the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, there were 90 opioid overdose deaths in the county in 2017 as of last week. The number could have been much higher considering that, according to Della Fave, there were 210 “reversals” so far this year, thanks to timely administration of the overdose first aid drug Narcan. Della Fave was able to recite 2016’s tragic figures from memory: 209 deaths and 502 saves.

“The sad thing is that most of it is coming from fentanyl,” said Della Fave, speaking of a synthetic painkiller that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. It is often mixed with heroin to increase potency.

The commission said the goals of such a declaration by President Trump would be to “force Congress to focus on funding,” and to “awaken every American to this simple fact: if this scourge has not found you or your family yet, without bold action by everyone, it soon will.”

Funding is key.

“In 2015, 27 million people reported current use of illegal drugs or abuse of prescription drugs,” read the report. “Despite this self-reporting, only 10 percent of the nearly 21 million citizens with a substance use disorder (SUD) receive any type of specialty treatment, according to the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health. This is contributing greatly to the increase of deaths from overdose.”

President Trump deferred on the recommendation to declare a national emergency for more than a week after the commission’s July 31 report. It is not clear why the President finally acted on Thursday, but it must be noted that the House of Representatives Bipartisan Heroin Task Force, co-chaired by Congressman Tom MacArthur (R-NJ, 3rd District), released a statement the very morning of the day Trump made his announcement. Part of that statement included the line “the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force supports the Commission’s recommendation of declaring a National Public Health Emergency.”

“In my home state of New Jersey, 2,000 people died from overdoses in 2016, surpassing car accidents, shootings and suicides combined,” said MacArthur in the Task Force’s statement. “It’s clear this epidemic is hurting so many lives. Throughout the year, the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force has been working together to find common sense solutions to this crisis, and I’m thankful to see much of our agenda aligns with the Administration’s (commission’s) proposals.”

The commission’s report made several recommendations that did indeed mirror earlier proposals made by the House Task Force. They included:

*Immediately addressing the IMD exclusion. Current Medicaid rules won’t allow federal funding for addiction treatment at inpatient facilities other than hospitals that have more than 16 beds, leaving states totally responsible for the costs. The commission said that changing that policy would “immediately open treatment to thousands of Americans in existing facilities.”

*Enhancing medical education for prescribers and providers. “This crisis,” the commission reported, “began in our nation’s health care system. While we acknowledge that some of this inappropriate overprescribing is done illegally and for profit, we believe the overwhelming percentage is due to a lack of education on these issues in our nation’s medical and dental schools, and a dearth of continuing medical education for practicing clinicians.”

*Enhancing the widespread use and accessibility of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). Think of things such as methadone. “MAT,” said the commission, “has proven to reduce overdose deaths, retain persons in treatment, decrease use of heroin, reduce relapse, and prevent spread of infectious disease… Yet approximately 10 percent of conventional drug treatment facilities in the United States provide MAT for opioid use disorder.”

*Enhancing Narcan availability.

*Prioritizing funding to the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection to improve drug detection technology.

*Ensuring federal health care systems share data with Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs.

*Making it easier to share addiction-specific medical information with healthcare providers.

— Rick Mellerup

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