President Trump declares opioid crisis public health emergency

Some say president missed the mark
Posted at 12:20 AM, Oct 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-27 11:25:09-04

It was the big news out of Washington Thursday. President Trump declared the nationwide opioid crisis a public health emergency.

Some people believe he fell short of a promise he's been making for months. 

That promise was to make the opioid crisis a national emergency. It may seem like just a distinction, but it determines how much and how quickly federal funds are funneled towards reversing a devastating epidemic that's killed over 64,000 people in 2016 alone.

"In August of this year, he said it was a national emergency during an interview but he didn't actually declare it a national emergency," Dr. R. Gentry Wilkerson, Director of Clinical Research in the Department of Emergency Medicine at University of Maryland Medical Center, told ABC2.

Leaving some close to the issue saying president trump missed the mark.

"He really fell short you call it a public emergency as opposed to a national emergency then that takes away the chance to get the funding that we really need," Peer Specialist/Recovery Coach, Andre Rhyne, said.

President Trump announced the opioid crisis as an official public health emergency. That declaration eases some laws and regulations allowing the Department of Health Human Services to reallocate grant money towards opioid abuse--much different than if the president declared it a national emergency; making new federal funding available immediately.

"I personally think that yes, this needs to be declared and emergency and that the funding that's freed up when that is what actually happens is really what we need," addiction psychiatrist with the University of Maryland Medical Center, Dr. Christopher Welsh, told ABC2.

As a Peer Recovery Coach with the University of Maryland Medical Center Andre Rhyne sees the struggle with addiction during the hospital intake process.

"I'm a recovering addict, I have 15 years clean, but I've been around addiction my whole life and I've never seen it as bad as it is now."

And the need is only getting worse.

Rhyne continues, "I would say about 60 percent of the patients that come to the emergency room have some kinds of substance abuse disorder about 80 percent of them want some type of treatment."

Recent numbers show that in 2016, more than 2 million Americans were addicted to prescription or illicit opioids.

"We're going to need a lot of stuff, this epidemic has been decades in the making and it's not going to be wiped away with just a couple of months of effort," Wilkerson said.

Medical professionals on the front lines of the opioid problem say a wrong distinction could waste precious time.  But the specifics can't be ironed out yet but it's all about the bottom line.

"It's really going to be access to money," said Wilkerson.

"We need the funding we need the government to understand that this is a war within itself and its tearing us a part," said Rhyne.

The president brought up his own experience with addiction Thursday, harkening back to his family history of alcohol abuse. He said the best way to prevent addiction is to prevent people from abusing drugs in the first place.