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Administration Declares Opioid Epidemic Public Health Emergency

The White House hosted an event on the opioid epidemic on Thursday, during which the President declared a nationwide public health emergency. The declaration will allow federal agencies additional flexibility to waive regulations and will result in a realignment of federal resources to address the crisis. The declaration will focus on expanding access to telemedicine treatment services, temporary appointment of specialists to crisis areas, and allowing people eligible for HIV/AIDS programs to also receive substance use disorder treatment. Additionally, Dislocated Worker Grants will be made available to people in treatment for opioid addiction. The President highlighted that federal employees who prescribe opioids will now be required to receive special training, and that the inspection of imported packages will be strengthened to better detect the flow of fentanyl into the country. In his speech, Trump also touched upon efforts by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to create a public-private partnership to study the creation of non-addictive painkillers. Because the President opted not to declare a national Stafford Act emergency, the announcement comes with no additional money and will have to be renewed every 90 days until the declaration is no longer needed. There has never before been a public health or national emergency declaration for a drug epidemic, and questions remain on how long it will last and what metrics will determine its conclusion. The declaration was officially signed by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Acting Secretary Eric Hargan shortly following Thursday’s announcement. The Administration has stated that it is in discussions with Congress about including additional funding to address the epidemic as a part of the end of the year-end spending bill.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the latest statistics on the epidemic last week, estimating that fatal drug overdoses have increased by more than 200 percent in the last 16 years. Overdose is now the leading cause of injury-related death in the nation. Additionally, Saturday, October 28, was the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) 14th annual National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.

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