President Trump on Thursday said he will declare a national emergency due to opioid abuse, but some believe the announcement is long overdue.
“The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I’m saying officially right now it is an emergency. It’s a national emergency. We’re going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis,” President Donald Trump said in response to questions at a briefing, The Washington Post reported Thursday afternoon.
However, Trump indicated that the White House was still working on the official paperwork.
Those who see the opioid crisis in Manatee County on a daily basis are glad to see the declaration made.
“I think it’s long overdue, much needed and hopefully it will provide some relief not only to law enforcement but to treatment facilities,” Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells said. “I think it just points out the fact that this is a nationwide epidemic. We hear about what’s going on in Manatee County because we live there, but it’s much larger than that.”
In Manatee County, opioids have taken an especially strong grip.
In the first six months of this year, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office responded to 787 suspected overdose calls, an increase of 156 percent, compared with 307 calls between January and June of last year.
In 2015, Manatee County had the highest number of deaths per capita among Florida’s 67 counties in which the medical examiner found a presence of heroin, fentanyl, morphine or cocaine, according to the Medical Examiners Commission annual report. Fentanyl is an opioid 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine that is often mixed into other drugs such as heroin.
Gerrie Stanhope, president of No Longer Silent, a Manatee County group dedicated to giving a voice to drug overdose victims and their family members, has seen the hold the drugs take on the community firsthand and was glad to hear the emergency has been declared.
She lost a son, a grandson and a son’s girlfriend to drug overdoses.
Stanhope said Trump’s announcement should have come sooner.
“I don’t know what the answer is,” Stanhope said. “Anything that helps is good.”
With the declaration of a national emergency, the White House will have additional powers to waive certain health regulations, pay for treatment programs and make overdose-reversing drugs more widely available, according to USA Today.
“Opioid addiction continues to wreak havoc on families in Florida and across the country. We need a national focus on this epidemic. I salute the president for declaring a public health emergency so states and federal agencies can have the resources necessary to combat the drug crisis,” U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, said in a statement.
Gov. Rick Scott signed an executive order May 3 declaring a public health emergency in Florida due to the opioid epidemic. Scott’s announcement came a day after state officials met with local leaders in Palmetto as part of a series of state-directed workshops to discuss the needs of Manatee, Palm Beach, Orange and Duval counties.
Governors in Arizona, Maryland and Virginia have already declared emergencies, The Washington Post reported.
Tuesday afternoon, Trump met with health officials and members of his administration to receive an update on the crisis.
The President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis was established in March and just last week issued a preliminary report and urged the president to declare a national emergency, according to the Washington Post.
More than 142 Americans dying of drug overdoses each day, according to the Washington Post.
“Every community is hurting. People are dying. We’re trying to do everything we can to stop it, but we’re going to need more. But this is going to give us the help that we need,” Wells said.