Can a State of Emergency Fix the Opioid Crisis?

Although the Trump administration recently declared the opioid epidemic in the United States a public health emergency, many are calling for the government to do more, specifically for them to declare the crisis a national state of emergency. A study by breaks down the ways in which a state of emergency would actually be more helpful in allowing us to cope with the opioid crisis and potentially even create changes that could solve the problem.

A public health emergency is a declaration that lasts 90 days and generally is reserved for natural disasters and sudden outbreaks of diseases. This type of emergency can allow for the government to allocate additional resources to the issue of opioid abuse and addiction as well as waive some of the mandates associated with healthcare, such as those specifically associated with government insurance programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

A state of emergency, on the other hand, lasts for one year and usually covers situations that go beyond ordinary disasters. This type of declaration allows the government to bend certain laws in order to help more people, something many individuals feel is necessary to fix the opioid crisis. Though there are 28 current states of emergency in the U.S. today, none of these are associated with a medical issue like opioid addiction.

A public health emergency can solve some of the issues associated with opioid addiction, but this problem has gone far beyond an issue that could be reasonably solved—or even addressed—in 90 days. Heroin addiction is claiming more people in the U.S. every year, and people are cutting it with cheap, synthetic opioids like fentanyl, leading to more overdoses. In addition, opioid abuse has actually lowered the life expectancy in the U.S. for the first time since 1993, which occurred at the height of the opioid crisis. If declaring a public health emergency can do anything, it doesn’t seem it will be enough.

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However, if the government were to declare the opioid epidemic a state of emergency, many different, widespread changes could occur. For example, government departments could give people more access to life-saving medications like naloxone, and more treatment centers that offer medication-assisted treatment could open. Also, addiction treatment centers could receive more funding from the government, which would mean they wouldn’t have to require payment from patients as often, making treatment easier to afford. Finally, declaring this to be a serious crisis could remove some of the stigma associated with addiction, making it less likely for people to feel addicts should be punished in prison rather than treated.

Declaring the opioid epidemic a state of emergency may not suddenly solve the problem of opioid abuse, addiction, and overdose in the U.S., but it does seem likely it would go a lot farther to creating positive change than what has occurred so far. Of course, there are also many things you can do at home to fight this problem, chief among them being the act of supporting any loved ones with an addiction and making sure they receive professional help.