President Donald Trump designated the opioid crisis as a national emergency Aug. 10, pledging to use federal funding usually reserved for natural disasters to help state and federal agencies fight the epidemic.
"The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I am saying, officially, right now, it is an emergency. It's a national emergency," the president said at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, according to CNN. "We're going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis. It is a serious problem the likes of which we have never had."
Overdose deaths from opioids have quadrupled since 1999 and it is estimated that more than 500,000 people died between 2010-2015 alone. Trump made the opioid crisis a key part of his campaign, appealing to voters in states most affected by heroin and prescription drug abuse.
National emergency declarations are usually saved for natural disasters or the outbreak of infectious diseases like the Zika virus, according to The New York Times. Usually, they are limited by geographic location. Former President Barack Obama declared a national emergency in the east coast during Hurricane Sandy.
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Declaring an emergency means that the Trump administration is making the opioid crisis a top priority. States and cities ravaged the most by the epidemic can use federal disaster relief funds or request other types of emergency aid.
It also means that certain federal rules are temporarily waived. Medicaid funds, for example, have less restrictions.
"If you declare a state of emergency, you can move federal resources more easily between programmatic areas," said Michael Fraser, executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. But, he also noted that "it's really unclear" what effect a federal emergency declaration would have on the opioid crisis specifically.
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"We’re going to draw it up and we’re going to make it a national emergency," said Trump. "You know, when I was growing up, they had the L.S.D. and they had certain generations of drugs. There’s never been anything like what’s happened to this country over the last four or five years."
Trump's position comes only two days after Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said that a national emergency declaration was unnecessary, according to CNN.
"We believe that at this point, the resources that we need or the focus that we need to bring to bear to the opioid crises can be addressed without the declaration of an emergency," he said, "although all things are on the table for the president."
The president may have been convinced by the White House commission investigating the epidemic, which recommended a public health emergency declaration.
Dr. Arthur Reingold, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California-Berkeley, applauded Trump's initiative. Reingold worked with the World Health Organization in 2009 during the bird flu epidemic and noted that an emergency declaration brings the necessary attention and resources to a serious problem.
"Typically, humans don't get motivated until there's actually a problem," he said. "In this case, this is a problem that has been festering for some time -- and now we're finally paying attention to it."