Recently, President Trump and his administration declared the opioid addiction crisis in the United States a public health emergency, which is a step down in severity from a national state of emergency. Though many people believe this could actually create certain positive changes to the trajectory of the crisis, others believe it will not do much to solve the problem. Others still argue that this could actually worsen the issue, rather than making it better.
According to a recent study by Addictions.com, the opioid addiction crisis has become a serious problem in the United States since the pharmaceutical companies began to push these medications onto both doctors and patients in the mid-1990s. Now, life expectancy in the United States is down for the first time in over 20 years, and the overdose death rate in the U.S. has risen by almost 20 percent just between 2015 and 2016. Something must be done about this crisis, but many say a public health emergency is not the way to go.
Regardless of motive, the declaration seems beneficial on the surface. After all, it is bringing more awareness to the current epidemic, and the administration promises to make changes to the way the opioid crisis is currently being handled. They promise to make telemedicine more available in rural areas, to make hiring more healthcare workers easier, and create other changes. However, a public health emergency only lasts for 90 days, and many feel that this diminishes the severity of the problem. Though the president could reinstate the emergency after the 90 days ends, many believe the problem will merely fall by the wayside after getting mild attention.
In addition, declaring a public health emergency is limited in scope, only allowing certain government bodies to act under very strict guidelines. Though some changes might be made, it seems unlikely anything serious will result from this declaration, as it is difficult to tackle a problem this large with only 90 days and limited means.
As a result, many criticized the decision, saying that declaring the opioid crisis a public health emergency may go so far as to harm those grappling with this issue. The thought process behind this criticism is that people will continue to ignore the problem, especially when nothing positive comes of the declaration. The solution favored by many critics is to declare a state of emergency instead.
A state of emergency lasts for a year (although it can be reinstated after it expires as well), and it is much more involved. It allows government bodies to work with autonomy and to work together to tackle the problem at hand. Specifically, a state of emergency allows us to allocate many more resources to solving the problem and even to bypass certain laws in order to do so.
With the severity of the opioid crisis in our country today—and the serious issues it has left in its wake experienced by medical professionals, families, and anyone whose life has been touched by addiction—it seems possible that merely declaring a public health emergency may actually be hurting opioid addicts after all.