PRESIDENT Donald Trump last week declared opioid abuse a national public health emergency and announced new steps to combat what he described as the worst drug crisis in U.S. history.
The declaration, which is effective for 90 days, means access to telemedicine services can be expanded, including substance abuse treatment for people living in rural and remote areas.
In addition, officials will also be able to more easily deploy state and federal workers, secure Department of Labor grants for the unemployed, and shift funding for HIV and AIDs programs to provide more substance abuse treatment for people already eligible for those programs.
The administration also will be working to reduce regulatory barriers, such as one that bars Medicaid from paying for addiction treatment in residential rehab facilities larger than 16 beds.
"It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction," Trump said. "We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic."
However, the declaration doesn't add any new money to fund the fight. Instead, that is being left to Congress to address during its end-of-year budget negotiations, and lawmakers have been reluctant to boost funding.
Clearly, a vigorous, sustained federal commitment is required to successfully attack this epidemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that prescription opioid drug deaths have quadrupled since 1999. More than 1,000 people are treated every day in hospital emergency rooms for not using opioids as directed, and 100 of those die.
Drug overdose remains the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., and is the leading cause of death for Americans under age 50.
Adams County has seen firsthand the impact of opioid addiction and heroin use. Statistics released last summer showed that Adams County experienced a nearly 360 percent increase in emergency department visit rates related to opioid and heroin overdose, and a 300 percent rise in the overdose mortality rates due to opioids and heroin between 2010-15.
Moreover, Adams County EMS officials said they saw four times the number of heroin overdoses in the summer of 2015 alone, with emergency first responders doubling the stock of on-hand Narcan to combat the high rate of overdose calls.
While Adams has been one of the hardest-hit counties in Illinois, the problem is just as acute in Northeast Missouri and Southeast Iowa.
While the president's long-awaited declaration is an important first step, considerable work remains to combat a scourge that, regrettably, is affecting all segments of American life.
Clearly, this crisis requires a bold, sustained federal commitment.
Providing local and state medical and law enforcement professionals with adequate funding is essential to address this menacing public health challenge.