President Donald Trump has promised to declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency, but what exactly does that designation mean for efforts targeting the crisis?
Trump will reportedly announce the declaration at a White House event on Thursday afternoon, The Hill reported.
Trump has two avenues through which to make such a declaration, according to an article from ABC News, and experts said that each allows for a very different federal response. If Trump were to name the opioid epidemic a national emergency under the Stafford Act, it would allow for access to funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
However, this is likely not the best choice for a drug addiction epidemic, Rafael Lemaitre, the communications director for the White House Drug Policy Office under the Obama administration, told ABC, as it would be hard to set an end point for the "emergency," like FEMA might for a natural disaster. Plus, tapping into FEMA's resources could drain emergency funds for events like hurricanes and tornadoes.
Trump is more likely to make his declaration under the Public Health Service Act, Lemaitre said. Under that law, the Department of Health and Human Services would be able to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency, which would waive restrictions and send medical staff to underserved areas, which are hit hard by the crisis.
But HHS' public health funding is much more limited than emergency funding afforded by FEMA, Rebecca Haffajee, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Michigan's Department of Health Management and Policy, told ABC. Its public health fund at present holds $57,000, an HHS spokesperson told the outlet, compared to millions potentially available through FEMA.
And for a declaration to be effective, the federal government must make sure it's more than just words, according to an opinion piece from the Baltimore Sun, and must include the actions experts outline.
"Just calling it an emergency won’t save any lives unless federal officials follow through with significant increases in funding for anti-overdose policies, programs and treatment strategies, clinical trials and basic research, because all of them will be needed to halt and eventually reverse the course of this epidemic," the Sun wrote.
House passes measure to prevent flow of fentanyl into U.S.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a measure on Tuesday that would arm U.S. Customs and Border Patrol with devices and the support needed to detect and intercept fentanyl smuggling.
Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., the bill's co-author, said in an announcement that public safety officials have underscored the need for tools that can prevent the spread of fentanyl, a dangerous synthetic opioid.
"This bill is a powerful tool for eliminating synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, from the equation," she said.
Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb also wants the agency to take more action on the epidemic, according to an article from USA Today. He said he doesn't want to repeat mistakes made by the FDA in the early 2000s, when it failed to take a strong stand against the spread of opioids.
"The type of action we need to take to finally [address] this crisis is going to be far more dramatic than we would have had to do had we made certain decisions years ago," Gottlieb said.
Editor's note: Production editor Eli Richman contributed to this story