Calls for President Donald Trump to extend the opioid public health emergency beyond its 90-day limit have grown increasingly louder as the impact of the epidemic continues to be felt in communities throughout the country.
So far there has been no indication from the White House on whether Trump plans to renew the declaration, which ends Jan. 23.
"Unfortunately, I don't know that we've seen a lot of advancement as a result of the first public health declaration," said Chuck Ingoglia, senior vice president of public policy and practice improvement at the National Council for Behavioral Health. "There's not been significant change in policy; there's not been significant new funding made available. I don't know that we've seen much of anything."
Such sentiment was shared by a group of 11 senators who on Jan. 12 wrote a letter to the president asking him to renew the opioid public health emergency and to work with lawmakers to secure federal funding for prevention and treatment efforts.
"Federal funding supports efforts to help stop the epidemic at every level," the letter stated. "It is needed to prevent addiction, provide treatment to those with substance use disorders, fund overdose reversal treatments and harm-mitigation efforts, strengthen law enforcement, and support efforts to care for the many children who are the unwitting victims of this disease."
Since declaring a public health emergency on Oct. 23, the Trump administration has yet to take action on many of the strategies the president outlined as part of his strategy to address the opioid epidemic.
"Unfortunately, we have seen too little action taken relative to the magnitude of the problem," senators wrote.
One of those strategies involved launching a large-scale media campaign promoting drug prevention among children, which has yet to materialize. And there has been little movement on filling several key positions related to drug control policy, such as a new permanent director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Some of the duties related to that post appear to be assigned to White House counselor Kellyanne Conway; last November it was announced she would lead the White House's response effort despite having no prior experience in drug control policy.
Ingoglia said he was not optimistic that an extension of the opioid public health emergency declaration would result in much of a change in policy. He said one possible benefit could be seen in March, when Trump is expected to release his annual fiscal budget request.
"Will that reflect the urgency of this crisis and his commitment to putting more resources into the prevention and treatment of opioid disorders?" Ingoglia pondered. "The only value I can see (in renewing the declaration) is for people to remind the president that he made this a priority and trying to hold the administration accountable for that across programs."
Opioid use once again was the primary driver behind a record year for drug overdose deaths, killing more than 64,000 people in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up 21% over the total number of drug-related deaths in 2015.