Donald Trump displays a presidential memorandum declaring the opioid crisis a
Donald Trump displays a presidential memorandum declaring the opioid crisis a "public health emergency”, after a speech in the East Room of the White House. JIM LO SCALZO

US acts to 'end opioid epidemic'

DONALD Trump has declared the opioid addiction crisis in the US a "public health emergency”, freeing up federal funds for treatments and easing certain laws.

"We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic,” the President said at the White House. More than 64,000 people died last year in the US from drug overdoses, with the majority linked to opioids and the largest number from illegal use of prescription painkillers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mr Trump said he was directing federal agencies to use all resources to fight the crisis, including providing better treatment for addicts.

Previously he said he would declare a "national emergency”, which would have released additional funding and power to take urgent action on opioids.

His speech also included a personal touch: At one point, the president went off-script to tell the story of his older brother Fred, who died of alcoholism.

"He'd tell me don't drink,” Mr Trump said in the emotional aside.

"He was a strong guy but it was a tough, tough thing that he was going through. But I learned because of Fred.”

Along with discussing how the US could prevent people from ever starting to use drugs, the President also explained why the country needs a wall along its southern border.

"An astonishing 90 per cent of the heroin in America comes from south of the border where we will be building a wall,” Mr Trump said.

Several drug trade and policy experts have expressed scepticism about whether constructing a barrier will actually lead to a reduction in drug smuggling.

The President's long-anticipated directive is aimed at fulfilling his promise to tackle the opioid epidemic that the Administration has up until now taken limited action to address.

But the move falls short of declaring a national emergency on the crisis, even though Mr Trump had said in August he would do that.

Such an action would have released additional emergency funding and federal authority to take urgent action on opioids.

The Administration determined that declaring a public health emergency was more appropriate than a national emergency, a senior official said.

Earlier this year, Mr Trump established a commission to study the opioid crisis, headed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

In an interim report, the commission recommended the President declare a national emergency under either the Public Health Service Act or the Stafford Act.

Doing so, the commission said, could free up funds for treatment, ensure wider access to the anti-overdose drug naloxone and improve monitoring of opioid prescriptions to prevent abuse.

Public health emergencies expire after 90 days and can be renewed. The designation gives the Administration access to the Public Health Emergency Fund, but that fund is almost empty.

Senior officials said they were speaking with Congress to receive more funding.

They also said their plan would expand access to telemedicine services, giving doctors the ability to prescribe medications to treat addiction to those in remote locations.

It would also speed up the hiring process for medical professionals working on opioids and allows funds in programs for dislocated workers and people with HIV/AIDS to be used to treat their addictions.

There is currently uncertainty over how Mr Trump's policy will be implemented, given how he has yet to name the key players who will be carrying out.

- Alexandra Wilts, The Independent



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