Now is the time to urge Congress and the White House to renew the declaration of the opioid crisis as a public health emergency. In October of 2017, President Trump declared a 90-day public health emergency as an effort to confront the ongoing opioid crisis. That declaration ends on January 23, 2018. Following the announcement, several public health agencies and state officials have seen little to no initiative from the federal government. The urgency in renewing the declaration can be illustrated through the death toll alone. The Center for Disease Control estimates opioids—which include, prescription painkillers (i.e. oxycodone), synthetic opiates (i.e. fentanyl), and heroin—claim the lives of 91 Americans every day.
Some action was taken on Wednesday Jan. 10, 2018 when President Trump signed a bipartisan bill to improve synthetic opioid screening at the Mexican border. Synthetic opioids include fentanyl which has a high risk for dependence and is a major factor in the increase of opioid-related deaths. The result of the bill is hoped to be a decrease in the influx of fentanyl and fentanyl laced heroin from Mexico and China. Upholding a collaborative relationship with both Mexico and China will ensure optimal results in solving the opioid crisis. However with the cancellation of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s 2017 state visit, it is evident that the President’s current rhetoric is impeding solution efforts.
Although the recently signed bill gives Customs and Border Protection agents the resources to detect and prevent the entry of illegal drugs into the country, it does not tackle the problem of addiction to prescription painkillers. In fact, the roots of the opioid epidemic can be traced to the late 1990s when pharmacy companies convinced healthcare providers that prescription opioid pain relievers would not cause addiction. Subsequently the medical community prescribed opioid pain relievers at increasing rates and patients began to misuse them. In 2015, an estimated 2 million Americans suffered from prescription-opioid-painkiller-related substance abuse. The dependence on opioids is only increasing, along with opioid overdose-related deaths. Despite the Trump administration promising aggressive action against the opioid epidemic, enough has not been accomplished during the emergency declaration. Thus several senators such as Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia wrote a letter to the White House urging a re-declaration of the opioid crisis as a public health emergency.
So what is the importance of the opioid crisis remaining declared a public health emergency? Well, little action is better than none. The public health emergency declaration led to mobilization of the federal government and garnered media attention. Furthermore under the Trump administration the CDC launched an awareness campaign, the FDA approved a new injectable addiction treatment and research to develop new non-opioid pain medications is underway. Nevertheless, it is unfortunate that this administration has not proposed to restore the Public Health Emergency Fund which has a current balance of $57,000. Under former President Obama, Congress approved $500 million to fight opioid abuse, but state health officials state “billions of dollars in new funding are needed to make a dent in the crisis”.
The Opioid Crisis is a complex issue and its solution is also multifaceted. Strategies must be executed to reduce the prescription of opioid painkillers by physicians and alternative non-opioid pain medications should be researched. More community health programs which provide treatment for opioid addiction must also be implemented. Integration of former addicts back into society and the workforce should also occur in an effort to prevent drug relapse. Awareness campaigns should be launched in schools and on social media to educate the public. However without funding to the Public Health Emergency Fund and renewal of the public health emergency declaration, the opioid epidemic may take a spot on the backburner.
Fajar Alam is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.