Opioid crisis: Ohio officials react to Trump's declaration of a public health emergency
President Donald Trump Oct. 26 declared the opioid epidemic that is killing tens of thousands of Americans every year a national public emergency.
Trump’s declaration is effective for 90 days and can be renewed. The president did not pledge any new funds to fight the crisis. With the declaration, the federal government will waive some regulations, allowing states more flexibility with how they spend federal funds, according to the Washington Post. The declaration also will expand the use of telemedicine treatment that helps treat people in rural areas where doctors are often in short supply.
The president said he also would suspend a rule that prevents Medicaid funding from many drug treatment centers. Current law limits use of Medicaid funding for residential mental health or substance abuse treatment to facilities with just 16 or fewer beds.
Ohio in particular has been ravaged by the opioid epidemic, seeing the shift from prescription drugs like OxyContin, to heroin, to being ground zero for the devastatingly powerful synthetic opioids fentanyl and carfentanil that dwarf the potency of heroin.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said he supported Trump’s decision to declare a national public health emergency.
“In Ohio, we lose at least 14 people every day to opioid overdoses,” he said. “It is going to take all of us working together, including parents, law enforcement, schools, churches, community groups and government to turn this problem around, and the action items the president announced (on Oct. 26) will help on many fronts, including prevention, education, treatment and law enforcement.”
DeWine said he was especially glad to see the 16-bed cap lifted. DeWine earlier this month spearheaded an effort of 39 attorneys general urging Congress to lift the cap.
“In announcing that he is removing this barrier to treatment, the president will help more Ohioans get the help they need to overcome this devastating disease,” DeWine said.
Ohio’s U.S. Senators, Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Rob Portman, earlier this year introduced legislation that would have expanded the cap.
Brown called Trump’s declaration an important, but long overdue step. But it will mean nothing if it isn’t followed with immediate actions, he added.
“We need to make it just as easy for Ohioans to seek treatment as it is for them to find opioids and heroin on the streets,” Brown said. “That means President Trump must use this declaration to boost treatment, invest in the people and programs that fight this every day, and make treatment more affordable.”
Portman called the declaration an important step forward and is hoping it leads to be better coordinated federal effort to combat the crisis. Portman said he has spoken to the president in depth about the epidemic.
He said work must continue to provide additional resources to combat the crisis.
“The American people deserve a comprehensive plan to help turn the tide of addiction, and that will require a greater sense of urgency on the part of the administration, this Congress, and key stakeholders in this debate,” he said.
Portman added he is looking forward to the final recommendations of the president’s opioid commission that is coming within the next few weeks.
In July, after a few delays, the commission released its preliminary recommendations.
The commission’s first recommendation was to declare a national emergency.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is heading up the commission, called the declaration “exactly what we asked for.”
“We asked to declare a national emergency under either the public health safety act or the Stafford Act. The president, excuse me, no, believe me — the president, what he did today gives this cabinet and the executive branch of this government every bit of authority they need to do whatever it is they want to do in concert with Congress to be able to do what needs to be done,” Christie told CNN.
Other recommendations from the interim report include mandating prescriber education initiatives with the assistance of medical and dental schools. The commission notes that 80 percent of heroin users begin with nonmedical use of prescription opioids.
The commission also recommends increasing the use of medication assisted treatment. It said the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services should “require all federally qualified health centers mandate their staff physicians, physicians’ assistants and nurse practitioners possess waivers to prescribe buprenorphine.”
It also recommended that every law enforcement agency should be equipped with the opioid-overdose reversal drug naloxone.
U.S. Rep. Dave Joyce, R-Bainbridge Township, also supported the president’s declaration.
More people died of drug overdoses in 2016 (64,070 according to the Centers for Disease Control) than died in the Vietnam War (58,200).
“At what point do we declare war on it?” Joyce said. “So I applaud the president for stepping up because what it allows us to do is get the necessary resources to start fighting the epidemic right here on the streets of Lake County or wherever throughout the United States where we’ve having this problem.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, said she hopes the president follows up with “real action” after his announcement.
“We cannot afford to wait months between an announcement and action,” she said. “Nearly every community in Ohio has in some way been affected by this scourge. People are dying, Mr. President, and as I said in August when you initially announced this move, Ohio is the epicenter of this crisis. I know many families will welcome the lifeline of funding and resources that real action will bring.”