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Trump declares opioid epidemic a public health emergency

Announcement falls short of national emergency status which would have triggered release of federal funds.

Susan Morse, Senior Editor

President Donald Trump today declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency.

The president also said he is banning fentanyl, an opioid that is reportedly stronger than heroin.

[Also: Anthem cuts opioid prescriptions by 30 percent, 2 years ahead of goal]

"We're requiring that a specific opioid, that is truly evil, be taken off the market immediately," Trump said. "We will hold back the flood of cheap and deadly fentanyl coming from China."

Fentanyl can be illegally made. Mixed with heroin, it has led to thousands of overdose deaths. The United States is dealing with the worst drug crisis in American, and in world history, Trump said.

[Also: Cigna to implement prior authorization policy for opioid prescriptions]

"This is a worldwide problem," he said.

Overdoses due to a massive addiction have quadrupled since 1999, Trump said.

First Lady Melania Trump also spoke.

"This can happen to any of us," she said.

The president said he is changing federal policy put in place in the 1970s that limits federal dollars to treat drug addiction at facilities with over 16 beds.

Trump praised CVS Caremark for its recent policy to limit opioid prescriptions to seven-day supplies.

The president will direct the Department of Health and Human Services to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency.

The move falls short of a declaration of a national emergency on opioids, which would have triggered more federal funding, according to The New York Times.

The cost of treating the opioid epidemic has jumped 58 percent over six years, according to a study led by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center that was published in STAT. Between 2009 and 2015, the average cost to hospital intensive care units per opioid admission increased from $58,500 to $92,400 in the 162 academic hospitals included in the study.

Health insurers have been setting goals of cutting down on the number or opioid prescriptions. Anthem said in August it had cut opioid prescriptions by 30 percent, two years ahead of schedule.

Anthem limited short-acting opioid coverage to seven days for all individual, employer-sponsored and Medicaid members beginning new prescriptions for treatment except for cancer patients, those with sickle cell anemia or those receiving palliative care.

Cigna implemented a prior authorization policy for opioid prescriptions. The use of prescribed opioids was down close to 12 percent over 12 months among Cigna customers, the insurer said.

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: susan.morse@himssmedia.com

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