HHS renews opioid public health emergency status

Prescription and pills
The president first declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency in October. (Getty/Gti337)

The Trump administration has renewed the declaration that officially categorized the opioid epidemic as a public health emergency shortly before it was set to expire.

The Department of Health and Human Services posted a notice signed by acting secretary Eric Hargan on the site for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. The original declaration, which was issued in October, would have expired Tuesday. The notice extends it for another 90 days. 

The White House declared the opioid addiction crisis a public health emergency several months after President Donald Trump said he would draft documents that would declare it a national emergency, a move recommended by the commission he convened to study the epidemic. 

Although the administration has pledged to make combating the opioid crisis a priority and despite calls for additional funding, the White House wants to cut the budget for its drug policy office by 95%, FierceHealthcare reported last week. Trump has more than once called for funding cuts to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. 

RELATED: Researchers find sharp rise in opioid-related hospital deaths 

Providers were critical of the declaration back in October, as it offered little in the way of funding, and characterized it as "an empty promise." The administration later said the declaration would allow it to expand telemedicine services, make quick temporary appointments for specialists and shift resources allocated to for HIV/AIDS programs to the opioid crisis. 

"By declaring the opioid crisis a nationwide public health emergency, the president has used the bully pulpit to bring national attention of this critical issue to not only everyday Americans, but also members of Congress, state and local officials, and his entire executive branch, who have the necessary tools and authorities within their agencies to address the crisis," the White House said in a statement to The Hill. 

The response from lawmakers on the declaration has been mixed. Nearly 50 members of the House Bipartisan Heroin Task Force wrote to Trump on Friday asking him to work with Congress to secure additional funding to combat the epidemic, according to The Hill. 

Senate Democrats, however, said that the administration has done little to address the addiction crisis since declaring it a public health emergency.  

RELATED: The hidden consequence of the opioid crisis—Hospitals overrun with cases of diseases from IV drug use 

"It is critical that we work together to provide every federal agency with the resources that they need to help our states overcome opioid use disorders," said the letter, signed by 11 Democrats. "Too many in our communities are losing their lives, families and futures to opioids and we need to be doing everything humanly possible to help them." 

Trump has also not yet named a "drug czar" or someone to oversee the drug policy office. 

A report from the administration found that the epidemic cost $504 billion in 2015, far more than previously thought. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimated that 11.8 million people misused opioids in 2016. 

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