Press Room

State Health Officials Commend Public Health Emergency Declaration to Address Opioid Epidemic

Arlington, VA (Oct. 26, 2017)—Members of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) joined President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump today at the White House for a meeting declaring the nation’s opioid crisis a public health emergency. 

“While emergency declarations are normally reserved for natural disasters or infectious disease outbreaks, the President’s announcement recognizes the work that states and territories are already undertaking to address the crisis and will allow for increased collaboration and coordination of regional and federal assets across the country for an even more effective response,” says John Wiesman, ASTHO president and secretary of health at the Washington State Department of Health. “We hope the public health emergency declaration, combined with future additional federal investments in substance abuse treatment and prevention, will lead to fewer deaths and better health for all Americans.”

State and territorial health officials have been at the frontlines of this crisis working to address the many facets of the epidemic. Six states have already declared emergencies in their jurisdictions: Alaska Arizona, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Virginia. “While federal leadership has been working hard in partnership with states to address this crisis, many states have taken executive and legislative action to address the epidemic including implementing new laws and regulations around prescribing and providing additional funding for treatment services and evidence-based public health interventions to prevent substance misuse in the first place,” says Michael Fraser, ASTHO’s executive director. “The federal emergency adds to the work that states and territories have been doing in many different ways across the country.”

Treating and preventing substance use disorders and addiction is very complex. “Opioid addiction is challenging because many people first become addicted when receiving the medications through the healthcare system. Addiction is not a moral failing on the part of the individual; it is a health condition we must address in healthcare and across all sectors as a society at the national, state, and community levels,” says Jay Butler, ASTHO’s immediate past president and chief medical officer for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. “Addiction is treatable and, more importantly, preventable with appropriate evidence-based interventions. The declaration today will help us respond even more effectively to the loss of life and devastating impact of substance misuse and addiction.”

ASTHO, in partnership with the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors (NASADAD), recently released a framework on public health responses to the opioid crisis that was developed to assist health officials in combating the epidemic. As federal agencies and Congress look to implement their response to this public health emergency, ASTHO urges national leaders to provide additional resources focusing on both treatment and prevention of addiction. “This is a crisis we ultimately are not going to arrest—or treat—our way out of; instead, we have to prevent our way out of this,” adds Fraser. “Like any public health emergency, addressing this problem calls for important steps to prevent the disease in the first place. We hope that the President and First Lady’s attention to the opioid epidemic will help us focus on both treatment and prevention. That is the work of public health, and states and territories are committed to mustering all resources available to end this epidemic.”

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ASTHO is the national nonprofit organization representing the public health agencies of the United States, the U.S. territories and freely associated states, and the District of Columbia, as well as the more than 100,000 public health professionals these agencies employ. ASTHO members, the chief health officials of these jurisdictions, are dedicated to formulating and influencing sound public health policy and to ensuring excellence in public health practice.

Call ASTHO's main phone line at (202) 371-9090 or contact Jane Esworthy, (571) 318-5431. Follow us on Twitter.