Trump declares opioid emergency
President rallies nation to fight ‘this horrible plague’
USA TODAY WASHINGTON President Donald Trump ordered his health secretary to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency Thursday — but stopped short of declaring a more sweeping state of national emergency.
In an address from the White House, Trump tried to rally the nation to pay attention to a growing epidemic that claimed 64,000 American lives last year, and advocated for a sustained national effort to end to the addiction crisis.
“No part of our society — not young or old, rich or poor, urban or rural — has been spared this horrible plague,” Trump said.
Trump signed a presidential memorandum ordering acting Secretary of Health and Human Services Eric Hargan to waive regulations and give states more flexibility in how they use federal funds, said four senior officials responsible for crafting the administration’s new opioid policy.
Trump first promised to declare a national emergency to combat the crisis on Aug. 10, and repeated that pledge last week. Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Trump touted a “big meeting” on opioids, and said a national emergency “gives us power to do things that you can’t do right now.”
But there’s a legal distinction between a public health emergency, which the secretary of health can declare under the Public Health Services Act, and a presidential emergency under the Stafford Act or the National Emergencies Act.
The latter is what the president’s own opioid commission recommended in July. Declaring a state of national emergency would give the president even more power to waive privacy laws and Medicaid regulations.
The legal powers Trump is invoking were designed for a short-term emergencies like disasters and infectious diseases.
By law, a public health emergency can only last for 90 days, but can be renewed any number of times. There are 13 localized public health emergencies already in effect for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate, and the California wildfires.