Trump and the opioid battle: What you need to know

President Donald Trump has declared America’s opioid crisis a “public health emergency.” But what does that mean?

At least 59,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2016, the New York Times points out — with opioid addiction a critical factor — and 2017 is on track to surpass that figure.

In Pennsylvania, there were 4,642 fatal drug overdoses in 2016, a 37 percent increase over 2015, the state Attorney General’s office has said.

Trump, in a speech Thursday, said “we are going to overcome addiction in America.”

He proposed several ways of doing that — but as of yet, at least, no additional funding for the battle. Here are the highlights, and coverage:

The New York Times reported that administration officials said “the White House would soon send Congress a request for money to combat opioids, with the goal of including it in a year-end spending package.” But the president did not sign a formal declaration, the paper pointed out, amid resistance from within his administration to any “open-ended commitment of federal funds” for the battle.

As USA Today notes, Trump’s public health emergency “is not the declaration some were looking for.” That’s because Trump had previously said he would declare a national emergency. That would have opened the door to broader powers and blanket funding in certain cases — again, something not all in the Trump administration favor.

Does the government have enough money? ABC News reports that the nation’s Public Health Emergency Fund currently stands at $57,000, meaning that the Department Health and Human Services “could be limited in their response” even under a public health emergency declaration. 

The Wall Street Journal points out that Trump’s move has been praised as a good first step, but that more efforts are needed.

That was also the reaction of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

“As this epidemic claimed the lives of over 64,000 Americans and more than 4,600 Pennsylvanians last year, we need the federal government’s help and support on multiple fronts,” Shapiro said.

Shapiro is among 39 AGs urging Congress to change a federal law to allow more patients who are addicted to drugs to receive treatment in residential facilities. That law bars Medicaid reimbursement for facilities with more than 16 beds, Shapiro said, and “must be changed.”

A full-fledged national emergency declaration would have given Trump the power to declare a standing waiver to the so-called IMD exclusion law. His announcement on Thursday does not do that, but he hasn’t ruled it out, either, as this Politico piece notes.

“Today is a beginning,” Shapiro said.

Roger DuPuis
Roger DuPuis covers Cumberland County, health care, transportation, distribution, energy and environment. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at

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