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Trump Declares Public Health Emergency To Address Opioid Crisis


In a surprise move, President Trump said he'll declare a public health emergency to deal with the country's problem of opioid-related overdose deaths. He made the announcement in response to a reporter's question before heading into a security briefing at his golf resort in Bedminster, N.J.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The opioid crisis is an emergency. And I'm saying officially right now, it is an emergency. It's a national emergency. We're going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis.

CORNISH: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is here to talk more. And Tamara, beyond the reporter's question, what prompted this?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: It may have been the reporter's question. But also, there's a commission, the President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. He appointed that commission earlier this year. And in about the last 10 days or so, the commission recommended in an interim report that the president declare a public health emergency as it relates to the crisis.

It cited 142 Americans dying every day from overdoses and added this plea to President Trump, saying, "you, Mr. President, are the only person who can bring this type of intensity to the emergency, and we believe you have the will to do so and will do so immediately."

CORNISH: So what would a declaration actually mean?

KEITH: Well, that's not entirely clear. Some folks I've spoken to on Capitol Hill don't know what it would mean in practical terms. But the commission argued that sort of the biggest thing is the symbolism, the powerful message that it would send. Also, it in theory would empower the health and human services secretary to grant waivers to states who want to increase the number of patients that doctors can see through the Medicaid program to give them addiction treatment services. Right now there's a limit on the number of beds they can have. And also, potentially it would allow the federal government to negotiate lower prices for that life-saving rescue drug naloxone.

CORNISH: So if a White House commission made this recommendation, why is it a surprise that the president is saying he's going to do it?

KEITH: Well, because just last Tuesday, this Tuesday, the health and human services secretary, Tom Price, argued that these sorts of emergencies are best handled for limited things like the Zika crisis, the Zika virus and said that an emergency declaration wasn't necessary at this point and said that the administration was still working to develop a comprehensive strategy.

CORNISH: So what happens next?

KEITH: That's a good question for which we do not have an answer. But we've been checking around with various agencies, the White House, and they just don't quite know yet.

CORNISH: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thank you.

KEITH: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF AESOP ROCK SONG, "RINGS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.