Trump set to make opioid announcement; victims of crisis want action not more words

President Trump waves to reporters as he departs for Texas on Wednesday. CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Bill O'Leary

Bill O'Leary

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump plans to declare Thursday afternoon that the opioid crisis - which is killing more than 100 people each day - is a public health emergency. By doing so, the federal government will waive some regulations, give states more flexibility in how they use federal funds and expand the use of telemedicine treatment, according to senior administration officials who briefed reporters on Thursday morning.

But the president will stop short of another recommendation that his commission on the crisis recommended: Declare a more sweeping national state of emergency that would have given states access to funding from the federal Disaster Relief Fund, just as they would be following a tornado or hurricane. Officials who briefed reporters said that declaring that sort of emergency is not a good fit for a longtime crisis.

Trump plans to sign a presidential memorandum that will order Acting Secretary of Health and Human Services Eric Hargan to declare a nationwide public health emergency and direct all federal agencies to use any emergency authorities that they have to reduce the number of opioid overdose deaths. The last time that a national public health emergency of this scope was called was in 2009 in response to the H1N1 influenza virus. The emergency will last 90 days but can be repeatedly renewed.

Officials said that they plan to roll out even more initiatives to address the crisis in the coming days and weeks. They laid out a handful things that will quickly happen by declaring the public health emergency:

--Patients in isolated areas like Appalachia will have greater access to opioid treatment through telemedicine and receive prescriptions without seeing a doctor in-person, as is generally required under current law.

--The Department of Health and Human Services will speed up its hiring process so they have people in place to help states in crisis.

--The federal government will allow states to temporarily shift the use of federal grant funds to target those with opioid addictions.

--The Department of Labor will make Dislocated Worker Grants available to those with opioid addictions and others who were dislocated by this health crisis; and the government will spend money from the Public Health Emergency Fund, although it only has $57,000 in it.

The officials said that the White House is working with Congress to find additional funding for this crisis - which experts say will cost tens of billions of dollars to properly address - but they declined to share any exact figures.

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