Trump Declines to Declare a State-of-Emergency to Fight the Opioid Epidemic

Nevermind that was the core recommendation from the president’s own commission.

President Donald Trump at a meeting on the opioid crisis, with Presidential Counselor Kellyanne Conway, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Trump, and First Lady Melania Trump. Evan Vucci/AP

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

The Trump administration declined to declare a national state of emergency to fight the opioid epidemic Tuesday afternoon at a much-anticipated press briefing in Bedminster, New Jersey—despite that step being the “first and most urgent recommendation” of the president’s own commission.

The interim report from the Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis was published last week and advocates for an emergency declaration as a way to “empower” Trump’s “cabinet to take bold steps” and “force Congress to focus on funding and empowering the Executive Branch,” all while unleashing millions of dollars in federal funding. Some states—including Florida, Maryland, and Arizona—have already declared states of emergency.

At his private New Jersey golf club, Trump attended a meeting with the first lady, presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, and other officials. “The best way to prevent drug addiction and overdose,” Trump said, “is to prevent people from abusing drugs in the first place.” He continued, “If they don’t start, they wont have a problem. If they do start, it’s awfully tough to get off. So if we can keep them from going on and maybe by talking to youth and telling them, ‘No good, really bad for you in every way.’ But if they don’t start, it will never be a problem.”

Afterward, Conway and Sec. Price took questions from reporters. When asked if President Trump would declare a state of emergency, Price said the president is treating the crisis “as an emergency, and it is an emergency.” But he stopped short of actually declaring a state of emergency: “We believe that the resources that we need to bring to bear on the opioid crisis at this point can be addressed without the declaration of the emergency. Though all things are on the table,” he said, leaving, at least in theory, the door open for such a move in the future. 

An emergency designation for the opioid crisis is broadly supported by public health experts, who argue more money is necessary to tackle an epidemic that killed more than 30,000 Americans in 2015. Just this morning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published new provisional data that shows the number of deaths caused by drug overdose is continuing to increase

Crude death rates for drug overdose in the United States from 2015 through “Quarter 3” of 2016.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The failure to declare a state of emergency today is just one more example of the administration’s shortcomings on addressing the opioid crisis. Had Republicans been successful in repealing the Affordable Care Act and passing new health care legislation, addiction services for millions would have been eliminated and Medicaid would have been cut by billions of dollars, devastating rural areas where President Trump finds much of his support. Meanwhile, Sec. Price degraded the use of opioid addiction medications as “replacing one opioid with another” and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has also taken a hard-line approach towards drug use reminiscent of the war on drugs.

The briefing from Conway and Price came within hours of President Trump’s incendiary remarks about North Korea, warning that if its threats of nuclear warfare continue, the country will be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend