President Donald Trump’s declaration Thursday that opioid overdose deaths are a public health emergency may have been low on specifics, but Washington’s top public health official said the order could result in more money to fight the problem.
John Wiesman, Washington’s secretary of health, said the the state badly needs more resources to make treatment available on demand for people addicted to opioids, “essentially when people are ready for it,” he said.
National support for the state’s prescription monitoring program, which tracks which doctors are prescribing controlled substances to avoid duplicate prescriptions, would also help, he said.
“Anything at the national level that can kind of continue to support prescription monitoring programs would be welcome,” he said.
Trump’s declaration alone won’t change policy, but it does free up the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to direct emergency funds toward responses and waive some rules on where Medicaid and Medicare patients can receive treatment.
“We’re sort of waiting to see,” Wiesman said.
It could also press Congress to increase funding to fight opioid overdoses. Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act last year, which included nearly $1 billion in funding for the opioid epidemic. Both Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., pushed for the bill. Washington was granted $11.8 million of those funds in April for expanded treatment programs.
An omnibus spending bill passed by Congress in May included an additional $5.43 billion in funding for addiction treatment programs, including an expansion of medication-assisted treatment.
The declaration came after a recommendation last week from the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, which is led by New Jersey’s Republican governor, Chris Christie.
Dr. Matt Layton, the former medical director of the Spokane Regional Health District opioid treatment program and a Washington State University researcher who studies addiction, said Trump’s remarks wouldn’t change policy immediately.
“I don’t really know what the announcement of the state of emergency means for patients. It’s so vague,” he said.
Wiesman said expanding access to overdose-reversal drug naloxone is another area where the state could use support. Several needle exchange programs around the state have been able to give out the drug in kits through a grant program, and a number of law enforcement agencies carry it.
In 2015, 727 Washingtonians died from a drug overdose involving an opioid, according to Department of Health data.
“It’s affecting families, it’s affecting law enforcement communities, it’s affecting our social service providers,” Wiesman said.
This article has been updated to correct the spelling of John Wiesman’s name.