President Donald Trump is expected to announce on Thursday that he is declaring the opioid crisis a public health emergency—a move that experts say is disappointing, even bordering on useless.
Politico reports that while the classification of a public health emergency allows the government more tools to fight the epidemic, the funding from both the Senate and the House is projected to remain flat. With a lack of federal funding, states’ budgets will have to be redistributed, meaning money from other health programs might be diverted in order to fight opioid addiction.
State officials and public health experts expressed disappointment, saying the epidemic is growing faster than efforts to contain it. Trump had promised in August that his administration will spend “a lot of money” on the opioid crisis—a vow that he did not deliver upon. “People are dying,” said Andrew Kolodny, executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing. “We have people dying of overdoses on waiting lists for an effective treatment.”
Most of the funding spent thus far on the response to the crisis was provided by an act signed into law by Barack Obama: the 21st Century Cures Act. While administration officials have since considered using the Stafford Act, which would cost billions of dollars and be executed by FEMA, it hasn’t been called upon yet. Meanwhile, states continue to come up with solutions that, per Politico, the federal government either ignores or denies:
Some states had hoped to see more help to build out programs that show promise. Rhode Island, for instance, wants to establish a pre-arrest diversion program so that law enforcement sends people using opioids to treatment instead of jail. “We know that prevents deaths, and criminalization does not,” said Rhode Island’s Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott.
The news comes just weeks after a Washington Post report detailing how Congress weakened the DEA during its fight against the opioid crisis. Trump’s nominee for drug czar stepped down because of that report, and Trump reiterated his pledge to give the necessary funds.
But that looks like it won’t happen, as experts say this measure is not nearly enough. Most declarations of public health emergencies come with extra funds, but not this one, apparently. Oh, well.