Providers said on Thursday that President Donald Trump’s declaration that the opioid crisis is a national public health emergency is a good and necessary step to raise awareness about the epidemic, but on its own it won’t solve the problem.
The declaration highlights the urgency of the problem, but the White House administration and Congress must take other steps, such as full funding and implementation of legislation previously enacted to help end the epidemic, said Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association.
‘An empty promise’
Chuck Ingoglia, senior vice president of public policy and practice improvement for the National Council for Behavioral Health, said Trump’s remarks left more questions than answers about specific efforts the administration intends to make.
“Resolving this national crisis requires sustained commitment, a massive expansion of addiction treatment capacity and increased federal resources. Yet, today the President did not give any indication that he intends to call for increased treatment funding. Worse, the White House implied that funds could be shuffled from important existing health programs to cover opioid treatment—it’s robbing Peter to pay Paul, with life-threatening consequences,” he said.
Without meaningful action, he said, the emergency declaration is just an empty promise. “We must follow today’s words with real resources and real investments. People are literally dying for help.”
Patrice A. Harris, M.D., chair of the American Medical Association’s Opioid Task Force and immediate past chair of the AMA, said in a statement that physicians, insurers, drug manufacturers and the government must also have resources, evidence-based treatment plans and smart public policies at the national and state levels.
“As physicians, we must be leaders in continuing to make judicious prescribing decisions, and by considering the full range of effective therapies for pain, including nonopioid and nonpharmacologic options, co-prescribing naloxone, helping patients access medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder and removing stigma,” she said.
But insurers must also be willing to cover pain treatments beyond opioid analgesics as well as long-term comprehensive treatment for opioid use disorder, she said.
“The number of prescription opioids in the country is declining while the numbers of people dying from heroin and illicit fentanyl are increasing at a staggering rate. As it stands, it’s easier for patients to access heroin than to access evidence-based treatment and nonopioid pain care,” Harris said.
‘Declaration falls short’
Katharine Neill Harris, the Alfred C. Glassell III Fellow in Drug Policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, said in an emailed statement that the declaration falls short of a national emergency declaration that Trump’s appointed opioid commission had requested.
“I hope this declaration is followed up with additional action, such as ensuring stability in health coverage for Medicaid recipients and enforcing the Mental Health Parity Act so that insurers are forced to provide mental health and substance use coverage that is on par with other medical coverage,” she said.
And Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that she is concerned that Trump’s declaration fails to authorize federal funding to combat opioid addiction. “When will the Administration send up a serious request for funding to fight this crisis? It is long past time that the Trump Administration treat this public health catastrophe with the seriousness and urgency it requires, and also immediately end its spiteful sabotage of the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and SAMHSA [Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration],” she said.