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Stephanie Pellitt

Policy and Advocacy Associate

President Trump Declares Opioid Epidemic a Public Health Emergency

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On Thursday, President Trump officially declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. While the National Council is pleased to see the President recognize the opioid crisis as a public health emergency, the announcement comes without any new funding to respond to the epidemic and the specifics of the declaration are still unclear.

During a speech announcing his decision, President Trump proposed relaxing the Institutions of Mental Diseases (IMD) exclusion for inpatient substance use disorder treatment. The IMD exclusion, which bars Medicaid payment for services delivered in certain facilities with 16 or more beds, has been as a major barrier against patients accessing treatment. President Trump also spoke to the importance of safe opioid prescribing practices, suggesting that physicians employed by federal government may be required to receive training on safe prescribing guidelines.

A fact sheet released by the White House earlier in the day did not reference the IMD exclusion or safe prescribing initiatives. The release stated that the emergency declaration will allow for expanded access to telemedicine including remote prescribing for medication-assisted treatment. Importantly, this provision could offer the opportunity for the administration to act on one of the National Council’s long-sought priorities: enabling state-licensed community behavioral health organizations to offer prescriptions of medication-assisted treatment to their patients via telemedicine. Other changes described in the fact sheet include redirecting existing Department of Labor and HIV/AIDS resources to individuals impacted by opioid addiction.

While the National Council applauds the President’s suggestions that he will use the emergency declaration to reduce barriers to residential substance use care and the use of telemedicine for prescribing medication-assisted opioid treatment, these steps are far from enough. New long-term investments in addiction treatment capacity are desperately needed to address the crisis. Unfortunately, the President’s announcement does little to achieve this goal. The National Council urges the White House and Congress to take other action to expand addiction treatment capacity, including passing the Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Expansion Act.

White House officials have said the administration’s response will not end with the emergency declaration. The National Council intends to hold the White House to that promise and will continue to seek opportunities to redouble the federal commitment to addressing the opioid crisis.