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NASW supports President Trump's declaration of opioid epidemic as public health crisis

WASHINGTON, D.C. - President Trump on Oct. 26 officially declared that the opioid crisis engulfing the United States to be a public health crisis. This act followed a recommendation from the June 2017 interim report from President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, which strongly recommended that the opioid crisis be declared an emergency.

Given that opioid-related deaths (64,000) in this country exceed gun violence and automobile deaths combined, NASW feels the declaration is warranted.

NASW and many other drug policy advocates have long held that-both nationally and internationally-there needs to be a public health approach, as opposed to an emphasis on criminal justice, to dealing with drug epidemics. Epidemiologically, addictions to legal and illicit drugs follow similar population-based patterns as other chronic life threatening medical conditions. Therefore, it is essential that the nation engages in a public health mobilization and prevention and treatment planning as we have for similar national health crises such as HIV, diabetes or heart disease.

We agree that public health models are specifically designed to manage epidemics that threaten many people. Additionally, these models are designed to address related population-based social determinants of health that encompass the risk-factors for opioid abuse. Because the current drug epidemic penetrates such a wide array of demographic and geographical populations, the administration correctly decided to turn to federal and state public health officials who have the infrastructure, expertise and tools to jointly coordinate a national response and save lives.

We would have hoped that President Trump had committed additional federal funds to fight this battle. For example, the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction recommended that the president declare an emergency under the Stafford Act . This would have given him the legal authority to allocate federal funds like what is done for natural disaster such as hurricanes.

However, even with the absence of a commitment of new funding, NASW believes that the opioid crisis is such a threat to communities throughout the United States; we support President Trump’s decision to declare a public health emergency. NASW will encourage social workers to lend their skills and join the interdisciplinary workforce required in responding to the emergency.

For more information contact NASW Social Justice and Human Rights Manager Mel Wilson at

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), in Washington, DC, is the largest membership organization of professional social workers. It promotes, develops, and protects the practice of social work and social workers. NASW also seeks to enhance the well-being of individuals, families, and communities through its advocacy.