Local officials applauded President Trump after he declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency Thursday, two months after he first promised to do so.
The announcement, said U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, is “a positive step in the battle to contain the growing problem of drug addiction.”
The counties Buchanan represents, Manatee and Sarasota, had the highest and second-highest number of fentanyl-related deaths per capita in the state in 2015, according to the Florida Medical Examiners Commission.
State Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, said he “couldn’t be happier” that Trump has formally declared the opioid crisis as a public health emergency.
“I’m thrilled that the federal government is engaging in such a huge issue and a horrible epidemic,” said Boyd. “Any support from federal partners is more than welcome, and hopefully we can have some of that trickle down into Florida.”
The Trump-signed memorandum orders the acting Secretary of Health and Human Services, Eric Hargan, to declare a nationwide public health emergency, according to the Washington Post. Hargan is also ordered to direct federal agencies to use emergency authorities to reduce the number of deaths caused by opioid overdoses.
The emergency will last 90 days. It can be renewed repeatedly.
The declaration of a public health emergency will gives states more flexibility in how they use federal funding along with waiving some regulations and expanding telemedicine treatment. The government will spend money from the Public Health Emergency Fund, which has $57,000 in it, the Washington Post reports.
“It’s been a major epidemic for us for over three years,” Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells said. “I would say it’s a public health emergency because people are addicted to opioids after they were given prescriptions.”
Wells hopes any money that trickles down can be used to fund treatment for addicts and for treatment providers.
“Until we start really concentrating on that, we’re not going to be able to help,” Wells said.
In Manatee County alone, the sheriff’s office responded to 787 suspected overdose calls in the first half of 2017, a 156 percent increase from the 307 calls they received in the same span in 2016.
As a result, the county has begun to spend thousands of dollars on a life-saving drug called naloxone, which is more commonly known by its brand name Narcan. The drug helps reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
In 2013, Manatee County Emergency Medical Services only had to administer Narcan 339 times. In 2016, EMS administered it 2,521 times. As of July 31, 2017, EMS had used Narcan 1,440 times.
“This is a public health emergency,” Buchanan said. “Our local communities need the resources necessary to confront the problem and the president’s designation will help make that possible.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a public health emergency in Florida in May.
Manatee is at the epicenter of the crisis, Buchanan says, but the issue is far-reaching across the entire state. Florida ranked fourth in the number of drug deaths nationwide last year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the nation saw 64,000 opioid-related deaths in 2016, a 22 percent increase from 52,000 in 2015, which was previously a record high.
Buchanan co-sponsored the INTERDICT Act, which passed in the U.S. House earlier this week. The bill aims to equip border agents with drug-detecting chemical screening devices at ports of entry to help stem the flow of fentanyl into the country.
But Trump did not declare a national state of emergency. That declaration would have provided access to funding from the federal Disaster Relief Fund, according to the Washington Post. Officials told reporters “declaring that sort of emergency is not a good fit for a longtime crisis and did not offer authorities that the government doesn’t already have.”
“They can call it whatever they want — funding has to come from somewhere and go to the right places,” Wells said.
Gerrie Stanhope of No Longer Silent — a local support group for addicts and families of addicts — is just glad something is being done.
“I’m just glad (Trump’s) acknowledging there’s a problem,” Stanhope said. “But we need to stop talking and do something.”