By Connor Williams, NACHC Intern
After a long wait and much speculation, President Trump has declared the opioid epidemic a Public Health Emergency.
By way of background, Public Health Emergencies allow for special grants and contracts to be made, as well as special Public Health Emergency Funds to be accessed by states in response to a health crisis. In addition, special personnel appointments can be made for up to 1 year to create positions that respond directly to a given health crisis. This type of emergency declaration gives states flexibility in how they allocate funds as well as the power to skip over certain administrative and bureaucratic restrictions that are normally in place. The last Public Health emergency declaration occurred under the Obama Administration in response to the H1N1 virus (swine flu).
The Public Health Emergency Fund currently has only $57,000. The government will now be able to spend these modest funds to fight the opioid epidemic and there will not be any new funding, but states can use existing federal grant funds to combat their opioid crisis.
It is worth noting that President Trump opted not to go a step further and declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency (which he indicated he might do back in August). A national state emergency declaration is usually reserved for natural disasters or other large scale events which cause massive damage and death. This type of emergency gives states access to new funding, such as the Disaster Relief fund and other federal funds.
As health centers across the country know firsthand, the opioid epidemic is a widespread, complex, and increasingly fatal problem that shows little to no signs of slowing down. Public investment in health centers [see press release] has helped spur innovation in treating addiction and associated conditions, such as chronic pain or mental health issues. Most health centers provide a range of behavioral health services, including addiction counseling and treatment, mental health counseling and treatment, and extensive social services support. There are also many centers that are developing promising solutions to address addiction and manage pain among patients, working in partnership with other stakeholders to provide services such as counseling, acupuncture, chiropractic treatment and group therapy. However, health centers are also grappling with the realities of a 70 percent funding cut as a result of the funding cliff now in effect. Many health centers are already feeling the impact of the cut and making tough choices to save resources. [see NACHC press release]
Meanwhile, the toll of the opioid epidemic continues. The total number of opioid overdose fatalities in the country has grown to over 33,000, which is close to matching the number of car crash fatalities. Public health officials and legislative representatives, especially in states like West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and other states are calling for extra funding in order to react quickly and decisively to the suffering in their communities.
NACHC is closely following the efforts to address the opioid epidemic and will keep health centers and State Primary Care Associations updated on any new developments related to the public health emergency.