Trump declares opioids a public health emergency; Fort Worth physician sees hope


There is enough hydrocodone prescribed in the U.S. that every adult in the U.S. could get a six-week supply to take around the clock, every year. – Glen Hardesty, Texas Health Resources

President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national health emergency Thursday, Oct. 26. The declaration will last for 90 days, after which it can be renewed for another 90-day term.

Trump pledged to “overcome addiction in America,” declaring the opioid crisis a nationwide public health emergency and announcing new steps to combat what he described as the worst drug crisis in U.S. history.

Trump’s declaration, which will be effective for 90 days and can be renewed, will allow the government to redirect resources, including toward expanded access to medical services in rural areas. But it won’t bring new dollars to fight a scourge that kills nearly 100 Americans a day.

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“As Americans we cannot allow this to continue,” Trump said in a speech at the White House, where he bemoaned an epidemic he said had spared no segment of American society, affecting rural areas and cities, the rich and the poor and both the elderly and newborns.

Officials said they also would urge Congress, during end-of-the year budget negotiations, to add new cash to a public health emergency fund that Congress hasn’t replenished for years. The Public Health Emergency Fund currently contains just $57,000, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, a negligible amount. Officials would not disclose how much they were seeking.

But there is little question there is a problem.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), more than 90 people die each day in the U.S. from an opioid overdose. They also offer the following statistics:

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— Roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.

— Between 8 and 12 percent develop an opioid use disorder.

— An estimated 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin.

— About 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.

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The NIH reports that the CDC estimates that opioid misuse and abuse costs the U.S. $78.5 billion annually due to healthcare costs, addiction treatment, criminal justice involvement and more.

But while there are questions and demands for more to be done, many — such as local emergency physician Glenn Hardesty — see Trump’s declaration as a step in the right direction.

The order will assist rural areas in accessing telemedicine as a method of combating the opioid epidemic and will instruct federal agencies to try and cut through some of the red tape that takes grant money so long to be dispersed.

Hardesty is an emergency physician employed by Texas Health Resources. He is also considered a local expert on the subject, having worked on the opioid epidemic as a sort of pet project for 15 years.

“The president declaring it a national emergency signifies he wants to bring an energy and a focus to it,” Hardesty said, adding that opiate overdose is now the No. 1 killer of people 18-64, and kills more people annually in the U.S. than motor vehicle crashes.

He says that since we have never before declared the opiate epidemic a national health emergency that how it will be addressed following Trump’s declaration is to be determined and he doesn’t know the overall impact it will have.

But, he said, the declaration “will cast a brighter light on the issue and bring much needed resources to the problem.”

“I hope to see partisan politics put away so we can see that the biggest killer of those 18-64 addressed,” Hardesty said. “Don’t make this a political issue, make it a humanity issue.”

Hardesty said it’s important to remember that for every person with an opiate addiction, there’s a family attached to that. While there isn’t much hands on the average person can do to help in the epidemic, Hardesty says the most important thing people on the street can do is to promote awareness and advocacy for treatment in a clinical environment.

Additionally, while he says he does not support drug use for obvious reasons, he recommends that if people are around someone with an opiate misusing lifestyle that they have Narcan, the opiate reversal agent, on hand in case of an overdose, as it is available over the counter.

When motor vehicles were the No. 1 killer in America, the government required people wear seatbelts and manufacturers started to build safer cars, Hardesty said. “Now we have another No. 1 killer in the area … and we need to deep dive and look at what is going on in the opioid epidemic today,” he said.

While he says he doesn’t know what resources will be made available to the health care community or the direct way the declaration will impact the crisis, Hardesty said it is the first step by this administration to tackle the problem and a much bigger step than has been taken in the past.

Hardesty says that while we still don’t know why some people become addicted and others don’t, the opiate epidemic crosses all socioeconomic, gender, age, and other demographics. He says he hopes that with the increased awareness of the issue comes action and empowerment to do more on the part of the healthcare community.

“I would hope this convinces people to [act] on this in a real way instead of just pay it lip service,” he said.

Hardesty also spoke to the press about how Texas Health Resources provides additional support for those dealing with behavioral health issues such as opioid and alcohol addiction.

Two weeks ago the hospital opened the Texas Health Recovery and Wellness Center in Mansfield to help tackle this issue.

The center has 80 beds for in-patient substance abuse treatment that typically lasts anywhere from one week to 30 days.

Patients must choose to voluntarily be checked into the center, the only exception being court-ordered detox or rehab.

Overall, the THR system has a total of 330 in-patient psychiatric beds which are suitable for substance abuse and detox needs.

“The services at THR are well poised to help with this problem for patients that have an addiction and are wanting to change their ways, get off the medications and go through a detoxification program.”

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.