You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience.

You are using an outdated browser.

To ensure optimal security, this website will soon be unavailable on this browser. Please upgrade your browser to allow continued use of ACP websites.

You are here

ACP Calls Trump's Action on Opioid Crisis a Good First Step

Ending the epidemic, however, requires further action and funding, College notes

President Trump's decision to declare the opioid epidemic a public health emergency has been met with tempered enthusiasm by the American College of Physicians.

"It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction," Trump said during a news conference Oct. 26 to announce his decision. "We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic."

However, he stopped short of calling it a "national emergency" -- a declaration that would have come with significantly more funding.

ACP described the move as an important first step, while stressing that more is needed to fully put the brakes on this epidemic.

"Efforts need to be made to make substance use disorder treatment more accessible to those in underserved areas," said Dr. Jack Ende, ACP's president. "We hope that [the] declaration will be used in a way that achieves that goal."

Additional federal funding does not automatically follow a public health emergency designation. By contrast, if the president had declared the opioid epidemic a national emergency under the Stafford Act, the federal government would have been able to access monies from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Disaster Relief Fund to combat the opioid problem.

As it stands, "the Public Health Emergency Fund currently contains only $57,000 -- clearly this amount is woefully inadequate to deal with the scope of the opioid epidemic," Ende said.

The "public health emergency" declaration will be effective for 90 days and can be renewed. It allows the government to redirect resources and expand access to medical services in rural areas.

"This declaration will give the federal government and states additional temporary flexibility to distribute funding, hire staff and waive requirements that may impede access to treatment services," explained Ryan Crowley, ACP's senior associate for health policy. But, he added, "much more needs to be done to address the epidemic -- and it needs to be done fast."

In 2015, more than 33,000 people died from an opioid overdose, and the number of overdose deaths continues to rise, he said. Put another way: 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Importantly, "communities need more resources to purchase naloxone, an overdose reversal drug, and the federal government and other stakeholders should take action to address the rising cost of this life-saving drug," Crowley said.

Ende agreed. "We know that by expanding access to naloxone, improving prescription drug monitoring programs and supporting insurance coverage of opioid use disorder treatment, we can stop this epidemic and save lives," he said. "We believe that increasing attention and devoting appropriate resources to this problem is vital."

The demand for treatment is massive, and most people cannot access it, Crowley said. In his statement, President Trump noted that telemedicine modifications may lead to better access to substance use disorder treatment in underserved areas.

"The president mentioned possibly allowing states to expand access to residential substance use disorder treatment facilities, which ACP supports.," Crowley said.

This and other recommendations to stem the opioid epidemic that ACP supports are laid out in the College's position statement, "Health and Public Policy to Facilitate Effective Prevention and Treatment of Substance Use Disorders Involving Illicit and Prescription Drugs," published earlier this year Annals of Internal Medicine.

"The administration should abandon its efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which mandates that certain health insurers cover substance use disorder treatment services," Crowley said. "The Medicaid expansion alone has helped thousands of people access treatment. Repealing the law would be a huge step backward." Under the ACA, Medicaid must cover basic mental health and addiction services.

As Ende said, "Substance use disorders are treatable chronic medical conditions, like diabetes and hypertension, that should be addressed through expansion of evidence-based public and individual health initiatives to prevent, treat and promote recovery, rather than excessive reliance on criminalization and incarceration."

More Information

ACP's position paper related to the opioid epidemic, "Health and Public Policy to Facilitate Effective Prevention and Treatment of Substance Use Disorders Involving Illicit and Prescription Drugs," is available on the Annals of Internal Medicine website.

The College's statement issued after the president's announcement can be seen on the ACP website.

healthday logo