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Opioid Crisis Declared Public Health Emergency; Congress Reviews Resources and Activities

October 26, 2017

The Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) signed a declaration today announcing the opioid crisis as a public health emergency. The Administration and Congress continue to consider which steps and resources are necessary to curb this tragic crisis, which claims, on average, the lives of 13 Pennsylvanians each day as a result of drug-related overdoses.

The 90-day public health emergency declaration will provide HHS with additional authorities and flexibilities to address the opioid epidemic. Specifically, the declaration will allow the Administration to:

  • Redirect federal resources to opioid efforts
  • Allow for the hiring of additional personnel
  • Expand access to remote prescribing through telehealth
  • Lift various regulatory burdens such as grant deadlines and paperwork requirements

Although the action today does not dedicate new resources to the effort, Congress and the Administration continue to explore what funding is needed. U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) has introduced S. 2004, the Combating the Opioid Epidemic Act, which would authorize $45 billion in funding over 10 years to fund opioid treatment and prevention.

Yesterday, the U.S. House Energy & Commerce Committee held a hearing—Federal Efforts to Combat the Opioid Crisis—to review the status of the implementation of comprehensive opioid legislation enacted last year and other federal initiatives underway.

Testimony issued on behalf of HHS highlighted its broad scope of activities—through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration—with the overarching goals of addressing the rise in opioid analgesic prescriptions and improving access to high-quality, evidence-based treatment options.

In particular, SAMHSA highlighted:

  • Opioid State Targeted Response grants authorized by the 21st Century Cures Act that provide resources to states to increase access to treatment, including $53 million to Pennsylvania during two years
  • Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant, that provides state substance abuse agency funding
  • Initiatives aimed at advancing the utilization of medication-assisted treatment—including $1 million recently awarded to assist four health care organizations in developing medication-assisted treatment programs for Pennsylvanians suffering from the disease of substance use disorder
  • Targeted work to support the recovery of pregnant and postpartum women
  • Grants to support the delivery of recovery support services

Earlier this year, the Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis recommended that the President declare a national emergency. The Administration continues to work through legal the hurdles of applying a national emergency designation to the broad-based and wide-sweeping opioid epidemic. The more narrowly defined public health emergency declaration issued today can be extended beyond the initial 90-day period.

HAP continues to monitor and share information about state and national efforts to fight substance use disorder and the opioid epidemic, including legislative and regulatory policy developments and treatment strategies, and advocate for flexibility to address the public health crisis.

For more information about HAP’s work to combat the opioid crisis, contact Michael J. Consuelos, MD, HAP's senior vice president, clinical integration.

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