January 01, 2018

The Opioid Epidemic and the Future of Public Health Emergencies

Sarah A. Wetter, James G. Hodge, Jr, Danielle Chronister and Alexandra Hess, Center for Public Health Law and Policy, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ


On October 26, 2017, after weeks of internal deliberations, President Donald Trump directed Acting Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Eric Hargan to declare a national state of public health emergency (PHE) in response to the escalating opioid epidemic.1 In so doing, the President classified the opioid epidemic as the deadliest PHE to ever be so designated since the nomenclature originated in 2001. Over the last two decades, overuse and abuse of prescription and illicit opioids have contributed to rampant morbidity and mortality across the country. Since 1999 over 600,000 deaths among all ages, sexes, races, and classes are attributable to opioid abuse.2 Solutions to this “Medusa of epidemics”3 are not easy, quick, or cheap. Absent enhanced and innovative public health interventions funded by a sizable infusion of resources, hundreds of thousands more may die by 2020.4

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