90 days after Trump's opioid emergency declaration, officials see little impact in Tennessee

The declaration has been extended beyond the original expiration, but state and local leaders say they've seen little impact from it so far on the fight against the opioid epidemic in Tennessee.

Back in October, President Donald Trump called the opioid crisis a "national shame," and promised to renew the fight against addiction in the U.S.

The declaration was originally set to expire Tuesday, and in the 90 days since, Tennessee and Knox County officials say they’ve seen little impact.

“Our efforts to reduce the impact of the opioid crisis in Tennessee have been underway for some time, and weren’t impacted by the declaration,” said Shelley Walker, director of communications for the Tennessee Department of Health.

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The declaration was extended to April earlier this week by acting Health and Human Services Secretary Eric Hargan.

A spokesperson for Gov. Haslam’s office echoed Walker, saying “Regarding the emergency declaration made by President Trump, no changes have been made to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Service’s federal funding.”

The spokesperson added that specific information on state and federal budgeting will be released in Haslam’s 2018-19 budget next week.

Representatives for the Knox County Health Department and Metro Drug Coalition also knew of no local impacts from the declaration.

“Overall, Tennessee has been very proactive in having a system to combat this,” said Dr. Joe Browder, who manages chronic pain for Pain Consultants of East Tennessee.

Through his practice, Browder finds himself indirectly dealing with addiction, though it is not his specialty.

"I think the key to this whole situation is we do need to realize that the chronic pain patient has not disappeared,” he said. “And that those patients still need care, but opioids are never the first line of treatment."

Browder said his practice works to find alternative treatments before pain meds, and educates patients on the risks of the drugs if they are prescribed.

When asked for the accomplishments of the emergency declaration, an HHS spokesperson sent a list of 2017 projects. These included a “first-ever meeting of leaders from HHS’s health and human services operating and staff divisions to discuss the opioid epidemic,” work with the White House to expand opioid awareness, and FDA guidance that encourage the pharmaceutical industry to move away from early manipulated or abused formulas.

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It’s unclear which items on this list fall directly under the emergency declaration.

Browder hasn’t seen any major impacts of the federal declaration yet, but also believes it’s too large an issue to solve quickly.

“The declaration of emergency is for publicity, to make everyone aware this is a problem,” he said. “It's not going to fix it, it's going to take a lot of effort for the long term.”