Why hasn’t President Donald Trump followed through on his promise to declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency?
Even as the nation mobilizes to help hurricane-ravaged Houston, it’s critically important to maintain momentum in combating the widespread abuse of these legal and illegal drugs — a public health crisis with a mounting death toll. More than 33,000 deaths each year are now linked to opioid overdoses.
This summer, the nationwide alarm over opioids appeared to reach a critical point with the release of a report from a presidential commission headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. The report is a clear-eyed look at the severity of the crisis and provides a strong plan of action.
One of its top recommendations: an emergency declaration from Trump. Conferring this status officially is important because it would give agencies new flexibility to deploy federal dollars and resources. It also could broaden access to treatment by allowing officials to expand the number of medical facilities eligible for Medicaid reimbursement.
Medicaid is a public medical assistance program for the poor. Many of its impoverished enrollees struggle with dependency. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that the program funds slightly more than one-fifth of all addiction treatment nationally.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board previously praised Trump for an Aug. 10 statement made at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., that the opioid crisis was a “national emergency.” Unfortunately, reports indicate that the White House staff has failed to follow through and make this official.
It is an exercise in frustration trying to find out why the administration has not acted. An editorial inquiry to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was redirected to the Office of National Drug Control Policy and then to the office of the White House press secretary, which did not respond.
The hot-potato shuffling between agencies and lack of response is an answer in itself: There’s no good explanation for the delay, and nobody wants to admit it. Ignoring questions from a news organization in America’s heartland is also disturbing. The opioid crisis is hitting rural regions the hardest.
An example of that came recently from the Red Lake Nation in northern Minnesota. Tribal leaders in late July declared opioid abuse a public health emergency and announced that they were considering the extraordinary step of banishing drug-dealing members.
Struggling communities like this especially deserve to know why the Trump administration hasn’t made the president’s vow a reality. If it’s a matter of doing the paperwork, what’s the holdup? If there are other holdups, what are they? And when will they be resolved?
Minnesota’s congressional delegation ought to be at the forefront of pressing for answers and follow-through. This is no time to falter in the fight against this public health scourge.