HHS forgets to renew Trump’s opioid emergency declaration

Then-acting HHS Secretary Eric Hargan first declared a national opioid emergency on Oct. 26, 2017, and renewed the status in January 2018. HHS Secretary Alex Azar subsequently renewed the emergency designation seven times, most recently on Oct. 16, 2019 — which was 99 days ago.

Two individuals with knowledge of HHS strategy said earlier Thursday that the department had realized its lapse and was working to quickly renew the designation. Only the HHS secretary can declare a public health emergency.

Trump, who has promised to end the nation’s opioid epidemic, has repeatedly touted his decision to declare an emergency. He also has made the opioid fight a central part of his administration’s agenda. “The opioid crisis” is one of five key priorities listed on the White House homepage — along with “economy,” “national security,” “budget” and “immigration” — and the dedicated page on the opioid response cites Trump’s decision to declare an emergency.

However, officials and public health experts say that the emergency declaration’s effect on the opioid crisis has been minimal. Many of Trump’s significant steps to fight the epidemic — including guidance for states to expand addiction treatment and a CDC awareness campaign — were accomplished outside of the emergency status.