In 2016, more than 60,000 people died of drug overdoses across the country. That’s about seven people per hour. The death toll of Sept. 11, 2001, every three weeks. In NYC, some 1,300 people died of drug overdoses last year, the highest number on record, according to the mayor’s office. And the majority of overdoses nationally and locally involved an opioid.
That is the context for President Donald Trump’s decision last week to declare the nation’s opioid crisis a “public health emergency.” It’s about time, but should be only the beginning.
Trump often referenced the crisis while campaigning, and in August he called it a “national emergency.” But last week, he didn’t label the opioid crisis as such in his declaration. Officials in Washington were reportedly concerned about the scope and funding of an action used for natural disasters. Affecting different agencies, a national emergency declaration may have been a stronger tool for the problem at hand. It would have triggered the immediate availability of some funds. Also, addiction experts say it would have underscored the urgency and impact of the crisis — from the Bronx and Staten Island to points north, west, east and south.
Still, Trump’s action will strip some bureaucratic red tape and help speed up certain resources to affected communities. This could have a positive effect particularly in underserved rural areas.
City officials are not yet sure what the emergency declaration specifically means for the five boroughs, but they say new funding for medication-assisted treatment is necessary, for example.
The president also may go to Congress in search of dollars, which could be an uphill endeavor given the lack of Republican support for current multibillion-dollar legislation on the issue. What’s more, proposed cuts to Medicaid that are part of Republicans’ efforts to repeal Obamacare are a big step in the opposite direction.
Trump is right that the opioid crisis is a “national shame.” But it’s a scourge that many communities, including New York City, need help fighting.