On Wednesday night, President Trump told reporters that he is "going to have a big meeting on opioids" Thursday, and White House officials tell USA Today that Trump will order the Health and Human Services department to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency, a step short of the national emergency he promised to declare in August and again last week — to the surprise and consternation of his staff. Trump said the order would give the federal government the "power to do things that you can't do right now," and White House officials said the renewable 90-day order would give states more flexibility to spend the $1 billion for opioid treatment Congress approved last year as part of the 21st Century Cures Act, plus tap other funds.
States have already received half of their Cures Act funding, but it is taking time to reach addicts. Some of the lag involves setting up new programs and training, but federal rules on controlled substances have also gotten in the way. The public health emergency declaration should clear some of those, like prohibitions on prescribing opioid addiction treatments over the phone.
Trump's opioid commission, headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, had recommended a more robust national emergency declaration, which draws on a different law and would have presented Trump with the authority to waive privacy laws and Medicare regulation. The public health emergency declaration allows states to tap the HHS's Public Health Emergency Fund, which currently holds $57,000. "My view is that this action sends a clear signal from the president that he wants money appropriated into that fund," Christie told USA Today. "And it gives Congress a place to go with that money to give the administration some flexibility to use it." Trump won't request any funds in his executive order.