Last week, President Trump directed acting Health Secretary Eric Hargan to declare the opioid epidemic a public health emergency under the Public Health Services Act, but not a national emergency through the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. A public health emergency enables federal agencies to provide grant money aimed at fighting the opioid epidemic.
Resources that will now be available in the fight against opioid abuse includes allowing telemedicine, which means that substance abuse patients in rural areas can seek treatment from doctors without having to meet with them face-to-face. The emergency status could also loosen strings that bind state and local health departments from choosing how they use federal money. For example, they may be able allowed to hire substance abuse specialists and let HIV/AIDS programs to spend money on opioid treatment. A state of emergency could also allow states to apply for grants to help people struggling with opioid addiction to get job training and placement.
The public health declaration also allows the Department of Health and Human Services to access a special fund reserved for an unexpected health emergency. At the moment, however, the fund has a balance of only $57,000.
What the public health emergency declaration does not allow is the waiving of patient privacy laws and the related burdensome paperwork, which can delay medical care in the event of an emergency. It also does not provide new money to tackle the opioid epidemic.
If Trump had used the Stafford Act, the federal government would have been able to access resources from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund to fight opioid addiction. Since Trump did not do this, Congress will have to appropriate funds.
Source: USA Today