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Trump Declares Opioid Crisis A Public Health Emergency


In a ceremony at the White House today, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a nationwide public health emergency.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I am directing all executive agencies to use every appropriate emergency authority to fight the opioid crisis.

MCEVERS: The question now is what the next steps will be for the administration and for Congress. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: President Trump's announcement was more than two months in the making. He first promised to declare an emergency back in early August. Now with families affected by the opioid crisis standing behind him and members of Congress from both parties in the audience, President Trump made it official.


TRUMP: Our current addiction crisis and especially the epidemic of opioid deaths will get worse before it gets better. But get better it will. It will take many years and even decades to address this scourge in our society, but we must start in earnest now to combat national health emergency.

KEITH: Precisely how it will work, how agencies will use the emergency powers isn't yet clear. Advocates say there are a number of actions that could be taken to make more treatment beds available and to get lifesaving rescue drugs into more people's hands. In his remarks, President Trump put a lot of emphasis on prevention. He talked about his brother Fred whose life was destroyed by alcoholism.


TRUMP: He would constantly tell me, don't drink. He'd also add, don't smoke. But he would say it over and over and over again.

KEITH: Trump said it worked for him. He hasn't had a drink in his life. And he suggested a national advertising campaign to tell kids not to start using drugs. Trump also talked about research into non-addictive pain medication and about the need to provide effective treatment for those who need it.


TRUMP: We understand the need to confront reality right smack in the face that millions of our fellow citizens are already addicted. That's the reality. We want them to get help they need. We have no choice but to help these people that are hooked and are suffering.

KEITH: But on its own, the public health emergency declaration doesn't free up any additional funding to meet these goals. Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle said what they're looking to the White House for now is action and a push for funding. Congresswoman Annie Kuster is a Democrat from New Hampshire who is leading a bipartisan task force on the heroin epidemic.

ANNIE KUSTER: He has gotten the headline in terms of making the emergency declaration. But the real test will be what comes next. We need extensive funding.

KEITH: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie chairs a commission the president created to study the opioid crisis and spoke outside of the White House following the event.


CHRIS CHRISTIE: It's now going to be incumbent upon Congress to work with the administration to put money in the public health emergency fund to help the states deal with this problem. For members of Congress who say, where's the money, I read the Constitution. The money starts with them.

KEITH: An administration official refused to say how much funding the White House plans to ask for, but some in Congress are talking about not just hundreds of millions of dollars but billions. There's already a fight over government funding set to happen in December. Most expect funding the opioid response will be part of those negotiations. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.