In a long-awaited public address, President Donald Trump will reportedly direct his Department of Health and Human Services to declare the opioid crisis a nationwide public health emergency under the Public Health Service Act during a speech set for 2 pm ET Thursday.
The speech will be streamed on the White House live stream below (note: Trump’s policy speeches frequently start late).
Trump famously touted fighting the opioid crisis as one of his top priorities as the “law and order candidate.” While describing the opioid crisis in New Hampshire earlier this year, the president memorably remarked that heroin, which had become “cheaper than a candy bar”, was devastating idyllic New England communities.
Shortly after the inauguration, Trump signed an executive order to form a commission to research strategies for tackling the crisis. The committee, which was led by NJ Gov. Chris Christie, has repeatedly delayed publishing the final draft of its report. Its next deadline is Nov. 1, though it’s unclear whether it will be met.
But in the meantime, Trump is taking the interim steps, though they may fall somewhat short of thee commission’s preliminary recommendations. Last month in Bedminster, Trump said he would declare the opioid crisis "a national emergency” – which would’ve unlocked access to federal disaster relief funds. Instead, he has decided to temper his language, and instead label opioids a nationwide public-health emergency, which he said will give his administration the “power to do things that you can’t do right now,” WaPo reported.
Still, the NYT notes that the emergency designation will unlock some federal funds while broadening the reach of health-care providers and federal agencies. Trump administration officials have argued that the “public health emergency” designation would be better suited to tackling the opioid crisis than a “national emergency”, though it’s also beyond plausible that, considering the unprecedented toll of devastation caused by natural disasters in the US this year, the administration wouldn’t want to further strain funds and resources set aside for disaster recovery.
Since the latest exodus of Trump administration officials included HHS Secretary Tom Price and Drug Czar nominee Tom Marino, it’s unclear who exactly will be responsible for formulating official federal approach within the confines of the emergency order.
As the Times noted, there have so far been few actions taken on behalf of the administration to combat the crisis. But given that the crisis has had the biggest impact on several key swing states responsible for handing Trump the presidency, he has every incentive to follow through on his promises. According to the latest federal statistics, drug-related deaths surpassed 60,000 in the US last year, and that number is expected to climb in 2017.