Would a State of Emergency Help America’s Opioid Problem?


Due to President Trump declaring the opioid epidemic a public health emergency, many are now wondering if it should instead be classified as a state of emergency. It is important to understand that a public health emergency and a state of emergency are two very different things.

A public health emergency falls under the Public Health Services Act. This means that federal health resources can be diverted into funding a variety of programs associated with the opioid epidemic. These programs may include things such as:

  • Removing trial periods and waiting periods for those in need of treatment
  • Removing some of the privacy restrictions and allowing for a more complete reporting system
  • Diverting funding from other current research projects into research to treat the epidemic conditions
  • Opening enrollment to specialized insurance programs that would improve access to care
  • Removing restrictions on many of the research programs and accelerate healthcare hiring
  • Removing restrictions on network doctors and clinics

Each of these things is specifically designed to alleviate normal barriers to treatment and research.

This in turn would open up a variety of resources for patients and doctors, including allowing increased access to telemedicine and grants to help former opioid addicts seek gainful employment. All of these things fall under the umbrella of a public health emergency’s benefits. There are some drawbacks to a public health emergency status. These drawbacks are mainly centered around where the funding can come from and the 90 day limit on the increased availability.

Many people argue that a state of emergency would be a better classification of the opioid epidemic. Since thousands of people are dying and millions of people are affected by the opioid crisis, one would think of it as a national problem that only a state of emergency could alleviate.

In order to make this determination, you do need to look at what declaring the national opioid epidemic a state of emergency would provide. Its benefits include:

  • Increased access to the anti-overdose drug naloxone
  • An attempt to remove the stigma of drug addiction by promoting treatment rather than punishment
  • More support for traditional programs such as medication assisted treatment and medication maintenance treatment
  • Increased access to treatment and more funding for free or reduced cost treatment
  • More funding for a broader range of research topics and treatments

Initially, a state of emergency seems to make more sense than a public health emergency. However, this is only how it appears from the surface. You need to consider the funding for all of the changes that a state of emergency could provide. A state of emergency was declared for hurricane relief just this last year. If the opioid epidemic is declared a state of emergency, it would take some of the funding from the hurricane relief efforts and funnel it into addiction treatment. With resources such as Addictions.com available, it is uncertain whether it is necessary to take funding from hurricane victims or other natural disasters and apply it to the treatment of the opioid epidemic.