Not a day passes without another community across the nation marking the painful cost of the opioid crisis. With 142 Americans dying every day from a drug overdose, the nation is "enduring a death toll" equal to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks every three weeks, according to members of President Donald Trump's opioid commission, who urged the president on Monday to declare the crisis a national emergency. The president needs a win and this would be a worthy one — bringing more resources to the table in a timelier manner and raising the public profile of the addiction crisis.
The commission, which Trump created in March, has met with physicians, experts and elected officials and taken testimony in preparation for releasing a full report on its findings in October. In an interim report Monday, the panel addressed the scope of this growing and evolving problem, noting the danger from opioids available by both prescription and on the street. Since 1999, the number of opioid overdoses has quadrupled, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and as of 2015, 27 million people were reported currently using prescription or illegal drugs. More opioids are consumed in America than in any other country, and enough were prescribed in 2015 to dope every American for three weeks around the clock.
That flood and its prevalence around the country prompted the panel to issue its "first and most urgent recommendation" — that Trump declare a national emergency, which would enable his Cabinet and the states to work more closely on prevention and treatment programs, and turn the heat on Congress to provide the billions of dollars necessary to improve drug interdiction and health care programs. State and local officials are responding in piecemeal fashion, but they need an overarching federal strategy to make the best use of limited resources.
The commission also called for waiving federal rules that limit the number of Medicaid patients who can receive substance abuse treatment in some residential facilities. It wants new training on opioid prescribing in medical and dental schools, and greater access to and training on the use of naloxone in rapidly reversing opioid overdoses. Members also implored the administration to work with drug manufacturers to develop new, non-opioid pain relievers.
This strong declaration by the commission is a wake-up call for the nation and an opportunity for the White House. It comes after several states, including Florida, issued statewide public health emergencies to address the opioid epidemic. Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed an executive order May 3 that fast-tracked the delivery of $27 million in federal grant funding for prevention, treatment and recovery services. With 3,900 opioid deaths in 2015, out of 52,000 nationally, Florida is at the forefront of a national public health emergency, and it should especially welcome the call for a more forceful federal role.
With his White House staff in turmoil and his legislative agenda stalled, the president needs a political victory — and the sooner, the better. The death of a Tampa high school senior in April — which authorities blamed on opiate intoxication — shows that the deadly drug epidemic is doing the impossible by bringing Republicans and Democrats, red and blue states, young and old and urban and suburban voters alike under the same threat. "If this scourge has not found you or your family yet, without bold action by everyone, it soon will," the opioid commission wrote. Trump should heed the call and elevate this crisis into a priority for national action.