US President Donald Trump has called America’s painkiller-addiction crisis a “national shame” as he declared it a public health emergency.
Mr Trump announced a plan to target the abuse of opioids, which kill more than 140 Americans each day.
The president has previously promised to declare a national emergency, which would have triggered federal funding to help states combat the drug scourge.
The move instead redirects grant money to be used in dealing with the crisis.
Mr Trump said on Thursday at the White House: “More people are dying from drug overdoses today than from gun homicides and motor vehicles combined.
“These overdoses are driven by a massive increase in addiction to prescription painkillers, heroin and other opioids.”
He added: “The United States is by far the largest consumer of these drugs using more opioid pills per person than any other country by far in the world.”
Mr Trump signed a presidential memorandum directing his acting health secretary to declare a nationwide public health emergency and ordering all federal agencies to take measures to reduce the number of opioid deaths, according to senior White House officials.
The order will also ease some regulations to allow states more latitude in how they use federal funds to tackle the problem.
But the White House plans to fund the effort through the Public Health Emergency Fund, which reportedly only contains $57,000 (£43,000).
The Trump administration will then work with Congress to approve additional funding in a year-end spending package, senior officials said.
Other elements of the directive include:
- Allow patients further access to “telemedicine” so they can receive prescriptions without seeing a doctor
- Make grants available to those who have had trouble finding work due to addiction
- The Department of Health and Human Services will hire more people to address the crisis, particularly in rural areas
- Allows states to shift federal funds from HIV treatments to opioids, since the two are linked as drug users often share infected needles
Proponents suggest Mr Trump’s announcement is a critical step in raising awareness about the nationwide epidemic, while some critics argue the move does not go far enough.
“The lack of resources is concerning to us since the opioid epidemic presenting lots of challenges for states’ budgets,” Michael Fraser, executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, told Politico.
“My hope is people will realise with no new money the ball is going to be in Congress’s court,” he added.
Senator Bernie Sanders later tweeted that while Mr Trump was “right that the opioid crisis is a national emergency”, Friday’s announcement was “nothing more than an empty promise”.
“Millions depend on Medicaid [healthcare funding] for opioid treatment. Trump’s solution is to cut Medicaid by $1 trillion. That is a disgrace,” wrote the Democratic senator.