President Donald Trump plans to declare a national state of emergency in response to the opioid crisis, a move that could potentially fast-track several initiatives intended to reduce overdose deaths and expand access to drug treatment across the country.
Trump announced Thursday at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, that his staff is “drafting up paperwork” to formalize the state of emergency. It was an abrupt change of course from earlier in the week, when Health Secretary Tom Price told reporters the opioid crisis could be “addressed without the declaration of an emergency.”
Trump’s move follows through on a recommendation issued July 31 by a White House commission led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is currently on vacation in Italy and wasn’t present when the president revealed his plan.
“The opioid crisis is an emergency and I’m saying officially right now it is an emergency,” Trump told reporters. “We’re going to draw it up and we’re going to make it a national emergency. It is a serious problem, the likes of which we have never had.”
Christie’s commission said the opioid crisis is killing so many Americans it’s the equivalent of “September 11th every three weeks.” The commission recommended that Trump expand Medicaid funding for opioid treatment, create a federal program to improve access to medication-assisted treatment, make the overdose antidote naloxone more freely available, and tighten enforcement of a federal law that requires health insurers to provide equal access to addiction and mental health services.
Trump was widely expected to declare the state of emergency last week during a visit to Huntington, West Virginia, which has been at the epicenter of the opioid crisis, but he instead turned the event into a campaign-style rally.
The president received what he described as a “major briefing” about the opioid crisis on Tuesday, but that moment was overshadowed by his “fire and fury” remarks about North Korea. He did speak about opioids, but only to criticize a recent decline in the number of drug prosecutions and emphasize his belief that “strong law enforcement is absolutely vital to having a drug-free society.”
In addition to several public health-focused measures, Christie’s opioid commission also recommended an expansion of prescription drug monitoring programs and increased efforts to restrict the illicit flow of fentanyl and synthetic opioids from China.
It’s still unclear what steps Trump intends to take under the state of emergency.