The National Institute of Drug Abuse reports that every day, at least 90 American citizens lose their lives to an opioid overdose. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attribute $78.5 billion to the economic burden caused by the misuse and overdose of opioids in the United States of America. These numbers seem surreal. In fact, I’m sure even the White House doesn’t fully understand the ramifications of the opioid crisis in America. The White House thus far has failed to respond sufficiently to the crisis; despite spreading at a faster rate than the HIV/AIDS epidemic, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency instead of a national emergency.
There is a fundamental difference between classifying something as a national emergency and a public health emergency. There are currently 28 national emergencies being addressed by the U.S. government which the president renews annually. Additionally, these crises receive surplus and immediate government funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In contrast, a public health emergency is not given the same degree of importance and is not considered the same level of severity as a national emergency. Government officials other than the president in the executive branch can declare a public health emergency. Health and Human Services then works with individual state and local governments to help resolve the issue. Most importantly, the declaration of a public health emergency allows for additional spending, fewer regulations and more resources to be allocated to the emergency; but not at the same level as a national emergency.
Declaring the opioid crisis a public health emergency is not enough. The situation warrants much more attention. The New York Times estimates the death toll due to synthetic opioids has risen by 540 percent in the last three years. In 2015, over two million people in the United States faced a drug problem related to synthetic opioids and prescription drugs. However, the most staggering fact of this crisis is that it is self-induced. Analysts from the Council of Foreign Relations say that the opioid epidemic began in the 1990s with the overprescription of legal pain killers.
Opioids can be categorized as either legally prescribed medications or illegal narcotics. The legally prescribed medications such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and morphine were prescribed in large quantities in the 90s. Opioid manufacturers then claimed these drugs did not have any long term consequences or side effects. These prescription drugs were also much less expensive and much more accessible to Americans suffering from pain after surgery, joint injuries or cancer treatment. When users could no longer get these prescribed drugs, they often turned to heroin. Many legal opioid users then moved from oxycodone to heroin to fentanyl. Fentanyl is considered almost 50 times as potent and addictive as heroin. It is also much cheaper than heroin and, in drug-infested communities, it is starting to become easier to acquire than heroin.
This epidemic is not only having an effect on the country’s healthcare, but on its economy as well. Janet Yellen, the federal reserve chair, told the Council of Foreign Relations that the opioid crisis had a causal effect on the declining labor-force participation rate among “prime-age workers.” Alan Krueger, an economist at Princeton University, added figures that Janet Yellen’s statement. He claims that the opioid epidemic “could account for 20 percent of the decline in participation [in the work force] among men and 25 percent among women from 1999 to 2015.”
The opioid epidemic is the primary cause of death in the United States, and it is only worsening by the year. The Center for Disease Control has issued guidelines advising doctors to avoid prescribing any opioids, and the Department of Justice is hiring attorneys to look into pharmaceutical companies and healthcare providers for overprescribing opioids. The president has also declared this a public health emergency, but more needs to be done to lower the amount of deaths in the United States which are caused by drug overdoses. Americans are paying more attention to Trump’s red carpet welcome in China than to the deaths of fellow citizens.That is perhaps one of the greatest tragedies this administration has experienced thus far, and because of President Trump’s vanity, this attitude is unlikely to change in the future.