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Opioids Declared Public Health Emergency, Drug Czar Nominee Drops Bid

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 33,000 people in the United States died from opioid overdoses in 2015, the most on record. After months of deliberation, the Trump administration took an official step forward to address the crisis on October 26 by declaring the opioid epidemic a public health emergency under the Public Health Services Act. Although the move allows agencies to direct more of their existing funding toward opioid-related programs, it does not automatically infuse agencies with additional funding for these efforts. President Trump had previously vowed to declare the epidemic a "national emergency," which, under the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, would have allowed for additional federal funds to be rapidly allocated to address the issue. Officials in the Trump administration had previously stated that declaration under the Stafford Act was not appropriate as the Stafford Act is typically reserved for emergencies related to natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes and earthquakes. Multiple former Obama administration officials have since echoed this sentiment.

In a related development, on October 17, Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), President Trump's pick to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a position widely regarded as the nation's "drug czar," pulled his name from consideration. An explosive October 15 report on "60 Minutes" identified Marino as the sponsor of legislation which hindered the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) authority to go after drug distributors and companies that did not report suspicious orders for opioids, many of which included millions of pills. Despite being heavily supported by drug distributors and opposed by top DEA officials, Rep. Marino's bill, the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, received bipartisan support in Congress and was signed into law in 2016 by President Obama. President Trump has not yet nominated a replacement for the Drug Czar position.