Can More be Done to Solve America’s Opioid Epidemic

Opioid drugs claim the lives of thousands of Americans each year, so many that the Centers for Disease Control have labeled it an epidemic and President Trump declared it a public health emergency, which falls under the Public Health Services Act. This classification is a 90 day push for more research, more funding, and an improvement in the affected population. Since the opioid epidemic has increased exponentially every year, it would initially seem that this classification is warranted.

In the case of the opioid epidemic, this means that patients would:

  • Be able to find more healthcare professionals trained in opioid addiction medicine through an increase in training and hiring practices
  • Have more access to opioid addiction treatment, particularly in rural areas through things like telemedicine and rural addiction programs
  • Have increased access to grants and other publicly funded programs that would allow them to become gainfully employed as opioid addicts

Clinics would:

  • Have more access to funding
  • Have an increased influx of skilled healthcare workers trained in opioid addiction medicine
  • Have more research funding

Overall, declaring the opioid epidemic a public health emergency would allow federal health officials to bypass some of the standard patient safety protocols, privacy regulations, and pull funding from other health-oriented areas in order to deal with the opioid epidemic. All of this would be under the control of the federal healthcare community, which is an important distinction.

Some people believe that this declaration is not enough. Instead, they would like to see the opioid epidemic be classified as a state of emergency. With the number of deaths per year that opioids claim it is hard to not see it as a state of emergency. Last year alone there were more than 59,000 deaths due to opioid overdose alone, this is not including opioid related crime or accidental deaths. Most people are either directly impacted by opioids or know someone who is. Unfortunately, only a small number of people are actively seeking treatment for their addiction.

Declaring a state of emergency is normally reserved for issues such as:

  • Natural disasters such a hurricanes and widespread fires
  • Both foreign and domestic terrorist attacks
  • Border protection

This year alone there are several state of emergencies already declared. Hurricanes have ravaged coastlines of multiple states and wildfires spread throughout the country. With the number of state of emergencies declared, it is difficult to justify pulling some of the funding from them in order to declare a state of emergency for opioid addiction. This is considering that billions of dollars are being spent on each of these emergencies. Additional funding would need to be found in order to continue both current operations and add the opioid epidemic.

Although opioid addiction could fit under the regulations of a state of emergency, there are already many resources such as in place. As a public health emergency, funding is being funneled into appropriate places and the president can always change the classification if more funding is needed. For now, focusing more time and energy into the growing opioid epidemic crisis may be unnecessary.