President Trump will order his health secretary to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency Thursday — but will stop short of declaring a more sweeping state of national emergency, reports USA Today. In an address from the White House, Trump will also try to rally the nation to a growing epidemic that claimed 64,000 American lives last year, and will advocate for a sustained national effort to end to the addiction crisis. “Drug demand and opioid misuse is the crisis next door,” said Kellyanne Conway, a senior counselor to the president. Trump will sign a presidential memorandum ordering Acting Secretary of Health and Human Services Eric Hargan to waive regulations and give states more flexibility in how they use federal funds, officials said.
Trump first promised to declare a national emergency to combat the crisis on Aug. 10, and repeated that pledge last week, saying a national emergency declaration “gives us power to do things that you can’t do right now.” But there’s a legal distinction between a public health emergency, which the secretary of Health can declare under the Public Health Services Act, and a presidential emergency under the National Emergencies Act. The latter is what the president’s own opioid commission recommended in July. Declaring a state of national emergency would give the president even more power to waive privacy laws and Medicare regulations to increase the number of beds available to treat substance abuse. The legal powers Trump is invoking were designed for a short-term emergencies like disasters and infectious diseases. By law, a public health emergency can only last for 90 days, but can be renewed any number of times. There are 13 localized public health emergencies already in effect for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate, and the California wildfires.