President Trump on Thursday declared the country’s opioid crisis a national emergency, saying the scourge exceeded anything he had seen with other drugs in his lifetime.
“It’s a national emergency. We’re going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis,” Trump said, speaking to reporters outside a national security briefing at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he is on a working vacation. “It is a serious problem, the likes of which we’ve never had. You know, when I was growing up, they had the LSD, and they had certain generations of drugs. There’s never been anything like what’s happened to this country over the last four or five years.”
The designation will allow the administration to remove some barriers and waive some federal rules enabling states and localities to have more flexibility to respond. One such rule restricts where Medicaid recipients can receive addiction treatment. It could also put pressure on Congress to provide more funding.
In March, Trump established the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, which is led by New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie.
Last week, the commission issued a preliminary report that described the overdose death toll as “September 11th every three weeks” and urged the president to immediately “declare a national emergency under either the Public Health Service Act or the Stafford Act.”
The report said that 142 Americans were dying every day of drug overdoses, based on 2015 statistics – but new federal data released early Tuesday signaled that the average daily toll is up significantly.
Trump’s declaration Thursday came just days after he received an extended briefing on the subject in Bedminster.
Afterward, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price told reporters that declaring a national emergency is a step usually reserved for “a time-limited problem,” like the Zika outbreak or problems caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Price said that the administration can do the same sorts of things without declaring an emergency, although he said Trump was keeping the option on the table.