On Thursday afternoon, President Trump declared opioid use a national emergency, pledging to "spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money" to reduce opium addiction and use in the United States.
"It’s a national emergency," Trump told reporters while visiting his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club. "It is a serious problem, the likes of which we’ve never had. You know, when I was growing up, they had the LSD, and they had certain generations of drugs. There’s never been anything like what’s happened to this country over the last four or five years."
Trump already created the President's Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis in March, with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at the helm. His announcement that opioid use will be designated a national emergency means that some federal restrictions will be lifted in order to give individual states more freedom to address opioid use within their borders. According to the Washington Post, certain rules governing where Medicaid enrollees can receive addiction treatment will be loosened as a result of Trump's Thursday announcement.
According to NBC News, it's also possible that Trump's declaration could free up funding for treatment facilities and to supply police officers with naloxone, a life-saving anti-overdose drug.
Reliable statistics on opioid use are difficult to come by, in part because state officials often neglect to identify specific drug(s) when documenting fatal overdoses. According to the Centers for Disease Control, though, around there were 33,091 overdoses in the United States in 2015 that involved an opioid.
The Trump administration has largely treated opioid addiction as a public health issue, as opposed to a law enforcement issue. The president's latest announcement is a continuation of that approach, as it will allow more state and federal resources to be diverted toward treatment for opioid addiction.
However, this is a stark contrast to the White House's broader approach to the war on drugs. In March, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered U.S. prosecutors to seek maximum penalties for non-violent drug offenses, a reversal of an Obama-era directive that reduced sentencing for low-level and non-violent drug offenders. Many have pointed out there there is a racial disparity here: The vast majority of Americans incarcerated for drug crimes are people of color, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, while the vast majority of opioid overdose victims are white, according to the CDC and National Center for Health Statistics.
The day before Trump's announcement, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said, "The resources that we need or the focus that we need to bring to bear to the opioid crises can be addressed without the declaration of an emergency." However, Trump's opioid commission recommended that he declare a national emergency and allocate more resources toward addiction treatment.