WASHINGTON- President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis sweeping America a public health emergency on Thursday afternoon.
The president addressed the crisis from the White House’s East Room, accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump.
The president has long-promised to do something about the crisis that has ravaged the nation and claimed more than 64,000 lives in 2016 alone. But a public health emergency is not the same as the national emergency the president initially promised to announce in August, and only directs the acting secretary of Health and Human Services, Eric Hargan, to issue a nationwide public health emergency under the Public Service Act. A public health emergency, unlike a national emergency, does not free up additional funding, instead relying on existing funding to be redirected. Declaring a national emergency would free up Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding, public health worker deployment, and state requests for federal aid, among other things.
The declaration only lasts for 90 days, although it can be renewed every 90 days, if the president so desires. But a senior administration official said the Trump administration is working closely with Congress to include further funding for the crisis soon.
It’s unclear if the president will declare a national emergency in the future. In an interview with Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs on Wednesday, the president said he would declare a national emergency on drugs “next week.”
Below is a timeline of the president’s speech.
2:51 p.m. “We are going to overcome addiction in America,” the president said multiple times, in different ways.
“We have fought and won many battles and many wars before, and we will win again,” the president said, concluding his speech.
2:47 p.m. The key, Mr. Trump said, is for people not to get hooked on drugs in the first place. Part of that comes through education, and teaching people that they are propping up violence through participating in the drug market.
“Illegal drug use is not a victimless crime,” he said
2:46 p.m. President Trump said the U.S. needs to confront reality “right smack in the face.”
The reality, he said, is that many are already addicted to drugs.
2:43 p.m. “For too long we have allowed drugs to ravage american homes, cities and towns,” the president said.
He called the scourge of drugs like opioids a “national shame” and “human tragedy.”
2:41 p.m. The president shared the story of his older brother, Fred Trump, who died after a battle with alcoholism.
Fred, Mr. Trump said, always told him not to drink. He listened, he said.
“And to this day I’ve never had a drink,” the president claimed.
The key, he said, is teaching children not to abuse drugs.
“So we get to people before they start,” he said.
2:36 p.m. President Trump said lawsuits lie ahead for “bad actors,” which could mean drug companies. The president said developments are coming on that front, and soon.
Trump said they’ll also be aggressively pursuing ways to find non-addictive pain killers.
2:35 p.m. The president said the U.S. Postal Service and other areas of the federal government will work to aggressively vet packages for fentanyl.
2:31 p.m. After building up his case for the crisis, Mr. Trump declared he is announcing a national public health emergency.
This still falls short of the national emergency he said he would declare in August. The president said states will receive aid much faster than they have in the past.
A final report will come in from the opioid commission next week, Mr. Trump said, on recommendations for dealing with the crisis.
“But I want the American people to know the federal government is aggressively fighting the opioid epidemic on all fronts,” he said.
2:30 p.m. Mr. Trump called the epidemic a “national health emergency.”
“We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic, we can do it,” Mr. Trump said.
Trump: This is the worst drug crisis in America’s history
2:26 p.m. The president called the ongoing opioid epidemic the worst drug crisis in America’s history, and perhaps, in the world.
“Addressing it will require all of our effort,” Mr. Trump said.
More people are dying from drug overdoses today than from gun homicides and vehicle incidents alike, he said.
“The United States is by far the largest consumers of this drug,” Mr. Trump said of opioids.
Opioids deaths have “quadrupled” since 1999, he said.
“Who would have thought,” he said. “No part of our society … has been spared this plague, drug addiction, and this horrible, horrible situation that’s taken place with opioids.”
2:23 p.m. Melania Trump shared the stories of the individuals and families she has gotten to know in recent months.
The first lady said those people have helped her see how sharing stories and speaking out is the only way to break the stigma of drug addiction. She recently visited a facility for babies born addicted to drugs.
“I have learned so much from those brave enough to talk about this epidemic,” Mrs. Trump said.
What she has learned more than anything is that drug addiction can happen to anyone.
“No state has been spared and no demographic has been untouched,” she said.
2:20 p.m. The president and First Lady Melania Trump arrive on stage, to applause. Behind them are a number of people lined up on a separate platform.
Melania Trump spoke first.
“It touches my heart to see the many familiar faces of the people I have been lucky to get to know over the last few months,” she said, thanking people for the “time and strength” it takes to share their stories.
The first lady spoke about how addiction affects children, and how she’s taking steps to help fight the epidemic.
2:12 p.m. President Trump, set to speak at 2 p.m., still has yet to arrive in the East Room.
A number of Cabinet officials and members of Congress are waiting for him in the audience. This is the president’s first public event of the day, and the only thing so far on his schedule aside from an 11 a.m. intelligence briefing.
1:57 p.m. President Trump is expected to take the stage any moment, as the East Room begins to fill. Spotted in the crowd, among others, is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Christie is the chair of the president’s opioids commission.