Reframing the opioid epidemic as a national emergency
Although the prospect of declaring the opioid problem a national emergency does not sit well with everyone, some experts in health law explain why the president's plan to do so is justified.
Although the prospect of declaring the opioid problem a national emergency does not sit well with everyone, some experts in health law explain why the president's plan to do so is justified. Current responses to the crisis—from patient and prescriber surveillance to addiction treatment—are no less important, writes Georgetown University Law Center's Lawrence O. Gostin, JD. But according to him and co-authors James C. Hodge Jr., JD, of Arizona State's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law and Sarah A. Noe, BA, of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, an emergency declaration could unify the national fight against opioid abuse and overdose. Throwing more money at the issue, they acknowledge, raises legitimate concerns that resources will be funneled away from other critical problems including diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Critics also fret that the national response will shift toward criminalization, among other worries. Despite these potential scenarios, Gostin, Hodge, and Noe insist that the addictive properties of opioids, the escalation in abuse and associated deaths in recent years, the potential for catastrophic loss of life, and the widespread transmission of needle-borne infections through social networks trump the "what-ifs." They argue that a concentrated public health prevention effort, executed across private and public sectors nationwide, could cost-effectively reduce preventable deaths and injuries cause by opioid misuse back to historic levels—at which time the emergency declaration should be lifted.