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Safety, Health Groups React to Opioid Crisis Declaration

While commending President Trump for identifying the opioid epidemic as a public health emergency last week, national health and safety organizations issued statements saying the declaration lacks teeth. The administration said more rules and actions will follow.

In a statement, the National Safety Council (NSC) called the “strategy vague at a time when a clear path forward is critical.” The NSC said the announcement falls short of draft recommendations from the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, which called for declaring a national emergency under the Public Health Service Act or the Stafford Act, both of which would release funding to support related initiatives.

“While an effort to find non-addictive alternatives to opioids is a step in the right direction, the federal response must include adequate funding for implementing other evidence-based strategies as well, a move the president himself said is necessary,” the NSC stated. The NSC’s mission is to eliminate preventable deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the road.

Georges Benjamin, M.D., executive director, American Public Health Association, which advocates on behalf of public health professionals and programs, said “without an aggressive, comprehensive plan and significant boost in funding to prevent overdoses, assist addiction recovery and prevent new addictions, the declaration will fall far short of our country’s needs.”

Patrice A. Harris, M.D., chair of the American Medical Association’s Opioid Task Force, said the declaration will offer needed flexibility and help direct attention to opioid-ravaged communities. In a statement she added: “This alone won’t solve a complicated problem. Ending the epidemic will require physicians, insurers, drug manufacturers and the government to follow through with resources, evidence-based treatment plans and smart public policies at the national and state levels.”

Drug overdoses kill more Americans than firearms and motor vehicle crashes combined.  While the number of prescriptions written for opioids has declined, more people than ever are dying from use of substances including heroin or fentanyl.  According to the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 75 percent of all opioid misuse starts with people using medication that wasn’t prescribed for them.

The White House said the emergency declaration:

  • Allows for expanded access to telemedicine services, including those involving remote prescribing of medicine commonly used for substance abuse or mental health treatment.
  • Helps overcome bureaucratic delays and inefficiencies in the hiring process by allowing the Department of Health and Human Services to more quickly make temporary appointments of specialists with the tools and talent needed to respond effectively to the public health emergency.
  • Permits the Department of Labor to issue dislocated worker grants to help workers who have been displaced from the workforce because of the opioid crisis, subject to available funding. This refers to discretionary grants awarded by the Secretary of Labor to provide resources to states and other eligible applicants to respond to large, unexpected layoff events causing significant job losses.
  • Allow shifting of resources within HIV/AIDS programs to help people eligible for those programs receive substance abuse treatment, which is considered important given the connection between HIV transmission and substance abuse.