If you add up how many people die from opioid overdose every three weeks in the U.S., you get a death toll equal to September 11th. The opioid epidemic caused over 59,000 deaths in 2016, and shows no signs of slowing. Addictions.com understands this tragic issue, and is here to provide 24/7 confidential help at 1-800-654-0987.
Recently, President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency, promising to supply grants, hire experts in the field of opiate addiction, and increase access to addiction treatment. But many people feel that the problem is larger than a public health emergency, and deserves to be declared a national emergency.
So, what’s the difference? A public health emergency addresses a problem, man-made or natural, that can quickly and unexpectedly sicken large populations. The appearance of new diseases such as Zika or Ebola can be declared a public health emergency, as can environmental problems such as chemical spills. Extra resources are allocated, and health mandates may be waived. When it comes to the opioid crisis, treatment for opioid addicted Medicare patients may be covered, even from out-of-network providers.
A national state of emergency addresses a situation that cannot be resolved using existing resources and laws, and threatens the lives and safety of the general population, such as a natural disaster. If the opioid crisis were declared a national state of emergency, the President could call on assistance from a range of federal departments that can cooperatively address the crisis, using funds that would usually be applied to disaster relief.
Another difference between the two is that public health emergencies expire after 90 days, but national emergencies last for a year. Either can be immediately renewed by the President, but a longer policy life makes sense for a crisis that so clearly requires long-term research, planning, and implementation.
The source of funding and how the emergency is handled is also different. A public health emergency allows federal health officials to waive regulations regarding patient privacy and safety, as well as modify requirements of Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Funding may also be used to create temporary positions to aid in addressing the crisis.
Having the opioid epidemic declared a national state of emergency would allow a number of federal departments to work on the crisis together, both logistically and financially. For example, a national state of emergency would allow the allocation of funds to tighten security at the U.S. borders with the goal of reducing the trafficking of heroin and illegally-made and distributed painkillers like fentanyl. The federal government could also apply more resources to the states who suffer the most opioid overdoses, such as West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio.
This funding would go to addiction education and treatment, as well as antidotes for opioid overdose, which are needed not just for the general public, but for first responders, such as law enforcement and EMTs, who are at risk of overdose do to accidental contact with extremely concentrated powdered opiates such as carfentanil.