What Trump's opioid 'Public Health Emergency' declaration means for us

Trump declares opioid crisis a 'Public Health Emergency'

ROANOKE, Va. – Last week President Trump said he would declare a national emergency, which would free up money from FEMA to fight opioid overdoses.

Instead, he ordered a public health emergency that directs federal agencies to use grant money already in their budgets to combat the problem. 

"Effective today, my administration is officially declaring the opioid crisis a national public health emergency under federal law. And I am directing all executive agencies to use every appropriate emergency authority to fight the opioid crisis,” Trump said.

Many experts say President Trump's action is more appropriate than declaring a national emergency because FEMA's budget is meant to fund short-term relief from natural disasters. 
The president's order lasts 90 days and can be continuously renewed until he believes it's no longer needed. 

In the Commonwealth and in Southwest Virginia, local doctors and prevention specialists are hopeful after the president's declaration despite knowing it could take decades to free the nation of opioid addiction.

Janine Underwood, executive director at the Bradley Free Clinic, said the move by the President is a positive one, especially because of the rapid increase in overdose deaths over the years.

Officials say the number of deaths related to opioid overdoses is four times the amount it was in 1999.

"What scares me is how this has escalated so much,” Underwood said.

Underwood would know. She uses her own tragedy to help others. 

After losing her own son to the disease of addiction, she now works to help others through the Hope Initiative. Launched a year ago, workers have already treated 140 patients battling drug addiction in the area.

“People are dying; if you look at those numbers if you total up in the last few years how many Americans have died, over 200,000. That would wipe out the entire Roanoke Valley.” Underwood said.

Despite the life-saving work they do through the Hope Initiative and at the Bradley Free Clinic, funding is hard to come by. Underwood hopes Trump's announcement will bring that money to our area.

“It scares me how we're going to get out of this. Funding is absolutely needed. Everything from prevention to recovery, we have to cover all of that. I think it's going to take decades to get out of this," Underwood said.

Carilion Clinic’s Dr. John H. Burton, an expert in the field, watched the news conference Thursday with 10 News.


“I like what I saw,” Burton said. An advocate for breaking the stigma of addiction and providing prevention and treatment efforts in the community, Burton said Trump bringing the issue to a national stage is a major step forward.

“He really took a lot of effort, along with the first lady, to really take away the stigma of addiction,” Burton said.

He also noted President Trump mandating certain training requirements for all prescribers, which Burton believes will be easily accomplished on the state level.

But like Underwood, Burton says funding from the president will be the key to making a difference in the cycle of addiction that continues to sweep the nation.

"Any step forward is a good step from our perspective,” Burton said. "To those of us who are following this very closely and fighting it on the forefront and in the trenches, any step is a step forward. We would like to now see an aggressive step to providing dedicated funding.”

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