The opioid epidemic has been declared a national emergency by President Donald Trump. “The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I’m saying officially, right now, it is an emergency,” said Trump, answering a reporter’s question while on a 17-day “working vacation” in New Jersey. As yet, there has been no accompanying White House press release or statement.

The special White House panel created to examine the opioid epidemic recommended that the President declare a national emergency, however yesterday’s remarks still came as a surprise. As recently as Tuesday in a briefing with reporters, Trump had indicated that he would stop short of declaring an emergency.

Under a national emergency federal funding can be increased and directed toward programs to combat the problem. Among the areas likely to benefit from increased funding are treatment centers, with the White House panel recommending rules be waived so that Medicaid recipients can get treatment for their addictions. 

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“Today’s announcement demonstrates our sense of urgency to fight the scourge of addiction that is affecting all corners of this country,” Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, MD, said in a statement. Mr. Price finished his statement by saying, “President Trump’s announcement further punctuates his clear commitment to combating this epidemic and I thank him for his leadership,” despite having said on Tuesday that the opioid crisis could be “addressed without the declaration of an emergency.”

Other recommendations from the special panel include further education mandates for prescribers, greater access to medication assisted treatments, and requiring law enforcement officers to carry naloxone.

Individual states have also taken steps toward reducing opioid-related overdoses and deaths with Virginia declaring a state of emergency last November.