It started in earnest 11 weeks ago. Speaking from one of his golf resorts, Donald Trump declared, “The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I’m saying officially, right now, it is an emergency. It’s a national emergency.”
As regular readers may recall, Trump’s use of the word “officially” stood out because of its procedural significance: when a president makes an official emergency declaration, a detailed federal process is supposed to unfold in response. Except, in this case, nothing happened for more than two months.
“This epidemic is a national health emergency,” Trump said during an address at the White House. “Nobody has seen anything like what is going on now. As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue. It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction.” […]
Trump said he directed federal agencies to use all their resources to fight the drug crisis, including focusing on providing improved treatment for addicts. […] The declaration alone provides no additional money to combat the problem but allows existing grants to be redirected to better deal with the crisis.
That’s not meaningless, but today’s announcement falls short of what Trump seemed to declare 11 weeks ago.
I can appreciate that may not seem to be much of a difference between a national emergency and a public-health emergency, but the Washington Post explained that today’s announcement isn’t quite in line with what the president described in August.
With Trump’s declaration, the federal government will waive some regulations, give states more flexibility in how they use federal funds and expand the use of telemedicine treatment, according to senior administration officials who briefed reporters on Thursday morning.
But the president stopped short of declaring a more sweeping national state of emergency that would have given states access to funding from the federal Disaster Relief Fund, just as they would have following a tornado or hurricane. Officials who briefed reporters said that such an emergency declaration would not be a good fit for a longtime crisis and would not offer authorities that the government doesn’t already have.
Trump’s announcement drew sharp criticism from Democratic lawmakers and some public health advocates, who questioned his commitment to the crisis, given that Trump made no immediate request to Congress for emergency funding.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), for example, described today’s announcement as “nothing more than a dog-and-pony show in an attempt to demonstrate the Trump administration is not ignoring this crisis.”
For what it’s worth, White House officials made the case that today’s event was a first step, and the administration intends to unveil more initiatives related to the opioid crisis. When the public will see those next steps is still unclear.