WASHINGTON — President Trump said on Thursday that he was preparing to officially declare the United States’ worsening epidemic of opioid overdoses as a national emergency, accepting an urgent recommendation from a national commission that he appointed.
“The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I’m saying officially right now it is an emergency,” Mr. Trump told reporters before a security briefing at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. “It’s a national emergency.”
The president’s commission concluded last month that such a declaration was its “first and most urgent recommendation.” Led by Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, Mr. Trump’s one-time presidential rival, the commission said that such a declaration would help direct more resources and attention on the crisis plaguing communities across the country.
Mr. Trump’s top health care official had played down the likelihood of an emergency declaration. Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, told reporters on Tuesday that the crisis “can be addressed without the declaration of an emergency, although all things are on the table for the president.”
Since then, Mr. Trump has come under criticism from Democrats, who accused him of failing to adequately respond to the growing number of overdoses. A spokesman for the Democratic National Committee said the president had “done nothing” for the people affected by the drug crisis.
In his comments to reporters on Thursday, Mr. Trump made clear that he was drafting paperwork and intended to issue a formal declaration that the opioid crisis was a national emergency — much the way the federal government officially recognizes the need for a national response to natural disasters.
“We’re going to draw it up and we’re going to make it a national emergency,” he said. “It is a serious problem, the likes of which we have never had. You know, when I was growing up, they had the L.S.D. and they had certain generations of drugs. There’s never been anything like what’s happened to this country over the last four or five years.”
Mr. Trump has repeatedly promised that the federal government will confront the spreading crisis of opioid overdoses. In 2015, officials said, 33,000 of the 52,000 overdose deaths nationwide were the result of the use of opioids like heroin and fentanyl.
After a briefing from health officials this week, Mr. Trump called the issue of opioid overdoses “a tremendous problem in our country,” and he said that he hoped that “we get it taken care of as well as it can be taken care of.”
The opioid commission recommended declaring an emergency under the Stafford Act, which is usually reserved for natural disasters, or under the Public Health Service Act, which also activates federal assistance to states but is carried out by the Department of Health and Human Services.
In a statement on Thursday afternoon, Mr. Christie thanked the president for following the panel’s suggestion.
“I am completely confident that the president will address this problem aggressively and do all he can to alleviate the suffering and loss of scores of families in every corner of our country,” Mr. Christie said.
Mr. Price said this week that most such declarations are for a specific outbreak of an infectious disease, such as the threat from the Zika virus, or are limited geographically to a specific location, like Hurricane Sandy, which hit the New Jersey coast in 2012.
President Barack Obama declared a national emergency as Sandy headed for the East Coast that year. And he used his authority to declare an emergency in 2009 during the H1N1 influenza pandemic.
White House and federal health officials did not respond to requests for more information about how Mr. Trump decided that an emergency declaration is necessary, despite the comments to the contrary from his advisers.
Declaring an emergency could allow states and cities that are hard hit by the opioid crisis to receive federal disaster relief funds and other types of urgent aid, just as they do after hurricanes or tornadoes through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“If you declare a state of emergency, you can move federal resources more easily between programmatic areas,” said Michael Fraser, the executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. He added, however, that “when it comes to opioids, it’s really unclear” what kind of effect a federal emergency declaration would have.
Six states — Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts and Virginia — have already declared emergencies because of the opioid crisis. These declarations have helped expand access to naloxone, a medication that can revive people who have overdosed, according to the Network for Public Health Law. They have also helped states get federal grants for treatment services and improved reporting of overdoses.
The 21st Century Cures Act, which Congress approved last year, is already sending states $1 billion over two years for opioid addiction treatment and prevention, but experts say it is far short of what is needed. Ohio alone spent nearly $1 billion last year on addressing the opioid epidemic.
AUG. 10, 2017