Trump Announces Opioid Crisis a Public Health Emergency

Declaration stops short of the ‘national emergency’ designation president had assured over summer

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WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump, surrounded by addicts and their families, declared opioid addiction a “public health emergency” Thursday as he sought to accelerate a federal government response to the crisis.

“We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic,” Mr. Trump said in a 25-minute speech from the White House in which he decried the tragedy of “opioid orphans” and described opioid abuse as a “plague” that Americans must defeat.

Mr. Trump, saying his administration was already “aggressively” fighting opioid abuse, pledged to raise the subject of Chinese-made bootleg fentanyl on his November visit with President Xi Jinping. Mr. Trump also praised pharmacy benefit managers’ efforts to limit the supply of some painkillers and touted a move by the Food and Drug Administration earlier this year to urge one drug maker to pull an opioid off the market.

Reaction to the move in the states was divided somewhat along partisan lines, with Democrats questioning whether Mr. Trump’s action went far enough, especially given that it didn’t include a commitment to new funding, and Republicans praising it as forceful and necessary.

Mr. Trump also said his administration was looking at bringing lawsuits against unspecified “bad actor” companies, but it wasn’t immediately clear what steps the federal government might take in that regard. This week, Purdue Pharma L.P., which sells the opioid painkiller OxyContin, said that the U.S. attorney’s office in Connecticut was investigating the company over the drug, and that it was cooperating with the investigation. The U.S. attorney’s office in Connecticut declined to comment.

Overall, more than nine states, and dozens of cities and counties, have sued Purdue and other opioid painkiller makers, alleging that their marketing has misled the public about addiction risks. Some state and county lawsuits have also targeted distributors of the opioid drugs. Purdue and many of the other firms have denied the allegations.

Opioids such as fentanyl, heroin, oxycodone and hydrocodone killed more than 34,500 people last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and administration officials Thursday likened the death toll to that in the Vietnam War. Opioid addiction has ravaged communities throughout the country in recent years, drawing attention from officeholders of both parties, many of whom have been urging Mr. Trump to take action for some time.

The president’s declaration Thursday stopped short of the “national emergency” designation that he had said over the summer he would invoke. It was twinned with an announcement that the administration would lift a rule that effectively prevented hospitals and treatment centers from maintaining more than 16 psychiatric beds at a time.

Senior administration officials said ahead of Mr. Trump’s comments that a public-health emergency declaration would allow existing funds for unemployed workers and people with HIV and AIDS to be shifted within those programs to specifically include participants with addictions.

The declaration, which must be renewed every 90 days, carries no specific commitments for additional funding. A senior administration official said that such funding had been proposed in previous GOP-led bids to repeal and replace Democrats’ 2010 Affordable Care Act, and that the White House now hoped to see the funding in a year-end spending deal.

A White House commission on the opioid crisis led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a onetime Republican rival and subsequent backer of Mr. Trump, suggested over the summer that the president declare a national emergency, leaving open different options for what form that declaration should take.

Declaring a national emergency would have allowed federal officials to access a pool of reserve funds through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But critics of that approach worried that would draw resources from hurricane-recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and several states, and officials said a public-health emergency declaration was more fitting for a continuing crisis.

Outside the White House Thursday, Mr. Christie praised Mr. Trump’s move as an “enormous first step” and urged Congress to appropriate additional funds. His commission is due to release final recommendations next week, and Mr. Trump said he was poised to adopt many of them. (Click to Source)

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