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Trump declares opioid crisis a national public health crisis

Trump declares national opioid crisis a national public health emergency

President Donald Trump has taken long awaited action in response to the increasing epidemic of drug use. On Thursday Trump directed the Department of Health and Human Services to declare the large opioid crisis a public health emergency. Currently, over 2 million Americans  depend on or abuse prescribed pain pills and street drugs.

Opioids consist of both legal pain medications like morphine or oxycodone, and illegal drugs like heroin or fentanyl. Since 1999 overdose deaths involving opioids quadrupled. In 2016, roughly over 59,000 people died of drug overdoses and became the leading cause of death among Americans aged under 50. This is a 19 percent increase from the drug death in 2015 which were recorded as 52, 404 deaths. 2017 is likely to be even worse. 91 Americans die daily from an opioid overdose. 

In many states, coroners are overwhelmed. According to the New York Times, in Summit County in Ohio, one coroner recalled that on three occasions the county had to request refrigerated trucks to store the bodies because the morgue had run out of space.

Fentanyl has become one of the more dangerous culprits. This is because the drug is sold on the streets as heroin, or it is used by traffickers to make cheap counterfeit prescription opioids. It is also showing up in cocaine contributing to an increase in cocaine related overdoses.

Despite this, Trump’s order did not release any additional funds to deal with the crisis, falling short of his promise made in August during his campaign to declare a national emergency which would have prompted the allocation of federal funding to address the issue.  

Trump’s campaign included many promises but it was his promise to focus on the opioid crisis that helped propel him to a crucial victory in New Hampshire’s primary last year. In office, Trump appointed an opioid commission in March and placed Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey as chairman.

It was this commision that recommended the President declare the crisis a national emergency – either under the Stafford Act, or the Public Health Service Act. It was this latter option that the President chose. Trump did call the crisis a national emergency in the following month but it was met with harsh resistance in his administration with many unwilling to make an open ended commitment of federal funds to deal with an issue that shows no signs of improving any time soon. Trump also did not sign any formal declaration of the designation.

Now, during his announcement of the formal declaration of a federal public health emergency in the White House Trump connected his famous “wall” along the U.S-Mexico border with efforts to stop the flow of illegal drugs coming into the United States. “An astonishing 90% of the heroin in America comes from south of the border – where we will be building a wall – which will greatly help this problem,” he said. Experts were quick to point out that this is unlikely considering the root of the crisis is in the painkillers prescribed by doctors in the United States.

Trump also suggested that the government will be producing “really tough, really big, really great advertising” which would be aimed at convincing people to never do drugs in the first place, similar to the “Just Say No” campaign of the 1980s and 1990s.

For now, it is unclear how much impact the declaration will have in the short term, especially without funding.

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