At a podium in the East Room of the White House today, President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump laid out her interest in, and his reasons for, declaring the opioid crisis in America — which some estimate kills as many as 100 people every day — an official public health emergency.
“The fact is, this is a worldwide problem, this crisis of drug use,” Trump began. “Addressing it will require all of our effort. And it will require us to confront the crisis in all of its very real complexity.”
At a briefing Thursday morning, senior administration officials told reporters that the president stopped short of declaring the crisis a national emergency because the public health emergency gave them the latitude they needed to address the problem under the Department of Health and Human Services.
The declaration, which lasts 90 days, will quickly allow greater access to opioid treatment through telemedicine services and the offering of prescriptions without in-person doctor visits; a shifting of grant funding to be shared between programs that have a connection to opioid abuse such as unemployment and HIV/AIDS treatment; and a targeted effort to fill vacancies within HHS to meet the demands of the declaration.
Funding for the declaration will be discussed in the end-of-year budget negotiations, but Trump did specifically mention $81 million he said would go toward researching better pain management techniques for veterans.
Flanked by the families of people who had a personal experience with addiction, Trump also told the story of his brother Fred who he said had problems with alcohol and told his younger brother Donald “never drink.”
“I had somebody that guided me. I learned because of Fred,” Trump told the room, which included Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who Trump thanked personally for his recent involvement in the indictment of two Chinese nationals known to be Fentanyl traffickers.
“We need to get to people before they start,” Trump said at one point, by way of announcing a massive ad campaign that will be used to target school-age children on the dangers of prescription drug abuse.
Other highlights of the speech Thursday included an allusion to a still-unnamed opioid that Trump cited as one of the most dangerous that will ultimately be declared illegal; a nod toward continued emphasis on the border wall to keep cartels and traffickers from coming up through Latin America and Mexico; new initiatives to better train federally employed prescribers of opioids; National Institutes of Health public/private partnerships to address treatment for addiction; and potential lawsuits for those who traffic in illegal substances.
The president closed by calling on each member of the “national family” to take responsibility — “including those struggling with addiction” — to do their part to stem the tide of opioid abuse and work toward a reduction in demand for opioids.
“We have no choice,” Trump said.