President to declare national emergency next week to address opioid epidemic; Rep. Tom Marino withdraws his nomination to lead ONDCP

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On October 16, President Trump announced that he would soon declare a national emergency to address the ongoing opioid epidemic. The president’s announcement comes just over two months after his initial pledge to declare a federal state of emergency, based on the recommendation of the White House’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. Public health advocates have applauded the notion of an emergency declaration on an epidemic that has become the nation’s leading cause of accidental death.

Typically reserved for natural disasters, a national emergency for a public health issue would enable federal agencies to deploy treatment resources using fast-track administrative procedures. Some of these treatment resources could include Medicaid waivers for mental health services and broader availability of the overdose antidote naloxone.

In addition to the update on the timing of an emergency declaration, the president this week indicated that his nominee for head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), had withdrawn himself from consideration for the “drug czar” position. The congressman drew controversy after a Washington Post investigation detailed his role in introducing legislation that is said to have weakened the ability of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to combat the opioid epidemic. Rep. Marino, who has served in Congress since 2011, previously worked as Lycoming County, Pa. District Attorney between 1992-2002. 

The federal government’s next steps on this pressing challenge remain to be seen. Committees of jurisdiction in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have held multiple bipartisan hearings to assess the full extent of the crisis, but have yet to announce any concrete legislative proposals. Late last year, the 21st Century Cures Act (P.L. 114-255) authorized $1 billion in funding to combat opioid addiction and overdose deaths; $500 million has been appropriated and the balance is expected to be attached to Fiscal Year 2018 funding for the federal government.

NACo stands ready to work with our federal partners on combating the opioid epidemic, starting at the local level. In recognition of the epidemic’s toll on communities, NACo engaged in a joint effort with the National League of Cities to assess how local agencies respond to the epidemic. In November 2016, the organizations published a joint report, A Prescription for Action, offering recommendations for county and city leaders to reduce rates of opioid misuse, overdose and fatality through local, state and federal action. 

Additional NACo resources on this issue:

A Prescription for Action: Local Leadership in Ending the Opioid Crisis

Letter to the White House: National City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic

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