Student Well-Being

Trump Declares Opioid Abuse a Public Health Emergency. It’s a Crisis for Schools, Too

By Evie Blad — October 26, 2017 2 min read
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President Donald Trump directed the Department of Health and Human Services to declare the opioid epidemic a public health emergency Thursday, a move that is more limited than his August pledge to declare a national emergency over deaths caused by abuse of the drug.

More than 2 million Americans had an opioid addiction in 2016, the White House said, and more than 300,000 Americans have died from overdoses since 2000.

“Nobody has ever seen anything like what is happening now,” Trump said from the White House.

The epidemic, which has strained resources for public services and law enforcement agencies, has also created challenges for schools, Education Week has reported. Those include supporting the children of addicted parents who’ve been placed in foster care, stocking overdose medications in school nurses offices, and rethinking drug prevention programs to address prescription medications and synthetic drugs like fentanyl.

A White House task force on opioids, led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, had recommended the national emergency declaration. The group also pushed for exploration of “evidence-based prevention programs for schools, and tools for teachers and parents to enhance youth knowledge of the dangers of drug use, as well as early intervention strategies for children with environmental and individual risk factors (trauma, foster care, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), and developmental disorders).”

“The best way to prevent drug addiction and overdose is to prevent people from abusing drugs in the first place,” Trump said. “If they don’t start, they won’t have a problem.”

The public health crisis declaration removes some red tape and allows some federal grants to be more easily directed toward opioid treatment. But it’s more limited than Trump’s original pledge to declare a national emergency, which would have allowed for a more rapid targeting of federal resources to the problem. Some federal officials had said the broader declaration is more appropriate for natural disasters that affect specific geographic areas.

Trump’s action also doesn’t come with any new, designated funding to combat opioid use. That drew criticism from lawmakers like Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat who has pushed for passage of a bill that would direct $45 billion to prevention and treatment efforts over 10 years.

Education Week reported earlier this year on how schools are helping children whose families have been affected by opioid abuse.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.