Earlier this month, at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., President Donald Trump looked solemnly into the camera, and declared that America’s opioid epidemic was a “national emergency,” and a “serious problem the likes of which we’ve never seen.”
“The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I’m saying officially, right now, it is an emergency,” Trump said, adding, “We’re going to draw it up and we’re going to make it a national emergency.”
Weeks after that headline-grabbing declaration, Trump’s words remain just that.
So far, the White House has not translated presidential rhetoric into governmental action.
Opening the federal spigot to loose the resources needed to fight a national emergency is complex business, after all. And they include preparatory steps that include, as Mother Jones and other news outlets have noted, signing the requisite pieces of paperwork and huddling with the lawyers.
Generally, those steps are undertaken before — not after — the president makes such a declaration.
Keep in mind, an emergency declaration was one of the key recommendations of that special commission on drug abuse chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
“It is a national emergency and the president has confirmed that through his words and actions today, and he deserves great credit for doing so,” Christie said at the time, according to NPR.
Here’s what’s happening:
The New York Times reported last week that the declaration is going through “an expedited legal review,” but it was not clear how long such a review would take.
A White House spokesperson also told the industry news site MedScape Medical News that Trump “is considering not just the emergency authorities outlined in the report [on opioid abuse] but other potential options as well, to ensure we’re doing all that we can to tackle this crisis head on.”
The spokesman added that Trump “instructed his administration to take all appropriate and emergency measures to confront the opioid crisis. Right now, these actions are undergoing a legal review,” MedScape reported.
Still, some White House officials are apparently skeptical that it will ever become reality.
“I don’t think they’re actually going to officially declare one,” an administration official familiar with the situation told Mother Jones. “He [Trump] said that it is a national emergency — but that’s little ‘n,’ little ‘e,’ not big ‘n,’ big ‘e.’”
That’s lazy waffling — and cheap verbal game-playing — at a time when such states are seeing death tolls rise despite ongoing efforts to fight abuse and to save lives.
Yet, it’s also vintage Trump, who frequently looks before he leaps before setting actual policy — as was the case with his widely publicized ban on transgender people serving in the military.
It’s only weeks later that the White House is formulating an actual policy — as loathsome as it actually is — in the wake of Trump’s ramblings.
So far, with opioids, it’s a big pile of nothing. And it’s a lost opportunity.
“It certainly seems like there’s an opportunity here to prevent additional deaths,” Jay Butler, president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, told MedScape.
An emergency declaration would also help to “reduce the overall rate of addiction,” Butler told the industry news site.
An estimated 142 people are dying every day because of opioid overdoses, that’s 2,840 deaths since Trump made his announcement.
If that doesn’t rise to the level of a national emergency, what does?
An award-winning political journalist, Micek is the Opinion Editor and Political Columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.