The Opioid Crisis Is Now a National Emergency. Here’s What That Means

President Donald Trump speaks during a briefing on the opioid crisis
President Donald Trump speaks during a briefing on the opioid crisis, Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2017, at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. Evan Vucci/AP Photo

Editor’s Note: President Trump has not officially declared the opioid crisis to be a national emergency as of Aug. 24, 2017. We regret the error.

On Thursday, President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a national emergency.

That may mean big changes in health care and treatment options for people who are dealing with an opioid addiction.

Here’s what we know so far about what these changes might look like.

The Opioid Crisis Is Now a National Emergency

This is a fairly unprecedented move, as emergency rulings are usually reserved for acute outbreaks or natural disasters. But the declaration comes at the recommendation of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis which President Trump established back in March.

The commission members spoke with all 50 state governors, non-profit advocacy groups, parents whose children are struggling with an opioid addiction and treatment providers across the nation.

Last week, the commission drafted an interim report with its preliminary findings and recommendations. In the report, the commission acknowledges the severity of the opioid crisis, calling it “unparalleled.”

The report states that, according to recent estimates from the Centers for Disease Control, 142 Americans die every day from a drug overdose.

It also notes that between 1999 and 2015, more than 560,000 people have died due to drug overdoses in this country and that as of 2015, 27 million people self-reported current use of illegal drugs or abuse of prescription drugs.

The commission also acknowledges an over-saturated but underserved percentage of the population affected by the opioid crisis. More than 40% of people who have a substance use disorder also have a mental health problem — and less than half of these people receive treatment for either issue.

The commission proposed several action steps that can be taken to lessen the severity of the opioid crisis, the first of which was a call for an executive decision to declare the issue a national emergency.

On Thursday, President Trump took the commission’s recommendation and declared the opioid crisis a national emergency.

What Will This Declaration Mean?

Because the opioid crisis is now a national emergency, the suggestions will be treated with a sense of urgency and states will be able to bypass much of the red tape that was previously stagnating any progress in curbing the opioid epidemic.

The recommendations will hopefully both help people who are currently struggling with an opioid addiction receive treatment and prevent future generations from misusing opioids at all.

These suggestions will springboard off of the decision to declare a national emergency:

  • Remove the barrier to treatment that comes from Medicaid’s exclusion of federal Institutes for Mental Diseases (IMD). While official legislation won’t be in effect yet, individual states will now be able to petition for waiver approvals to allow Medicaid to fund treatment in inpatient programs that treat “mental diseases” (including substance use disorders) and those that provide withdrawal management.
  • Mandate education for the doctors who prescribe opioids for treating pain. The opioid epidemic, the report notes, “began in our nation’s health care system.”
  • Federally fund access to Medication-Assisted Treatment at all licensed facilities and ensure further testing and development of new treatment options.
  • Equip law enforcement officers with naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug, and put “immunity” laws in place that will ensure people aren’t afraid to call for help in case of a drug-related emergency.
  • Slow down and stop the spread of fentanyl and fentanyl-type drugs (which are, the report claims, more dangerous than most of the opioids out there today, including heroin). The commission proposed an increase in manpower and funding that will allow various government agencies including the FBI, the DEA and the Department of Homeland Security to develop methods for slowing the distribution of these synthetic opioids.
  • Facilitate the sharing of data regarding prior overdoses and prescription history between state and federal programs to prevent the over-prescription of opioids in the future.
  • Rework patient privacy laws to make information about histories of substance abuse more easily available to medical professionals.
  • Ensure a standardized treatment experience that does not discriminate between those being treated for mental health and substance abuse disorders and those being treated for physical diagnoses. While there are already laws in effect to prevent this disparity, they are not widely enforced, and, as a result, too many people go without proper help.

Along with these initial proposals, the commission has promised to carry out a full review of federal laws, programs, regulations and funding that focus on addiction and substance abuse. The commission notes that its work will be ongoing, and that it will have more to share later on in 2017.

As these changes begin to take effect, we’ll be sure to update you on what that will mean for anyone dealing with an addiction or substance use disorder in terms of rights, health care and treatment options.

Grace Schweizer is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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