Trump, surprisingly, is not declaring the opioid epidemic a national emergency, thank god. What could happen if it were declared is described in the Washington Post:
“From a strictly practical standpoint any emergency declaration would have two main effects, according to Keith Humphreys, an addiction specialist at Stanford University (and frequent Wonkblog contributor) who worked in the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Barack Obama.
“First, it lets states and localities that are designated disaster zones to access money in the federal Disaster Relief Fund, just like they could if they had a tornado or hurricane,” Humphreys said. States and cities would be able to request disaster zone declarations from the White House, which would enable them to use federal funds for drug treatment, overdose-reversal medication and more.
“Second, declaring an emergency allows temporary waivers of many rules regarding federal programs,” Humphreys said. “For example, currently Medicaid can’t reimburse drug treatment in large residential facilities (16 or more beds). That could be waived in an emergency.””
The problem with national emergency declarations is that they provide a unique opportunity for an administration to pursue separate agendas that would not be possible otherwise:
“Groups advocating for a public health-centered approach to the epidemic are worried about what powers an emergency declaration would grant an administration with a fondness for “tough on crime” law enforcement tactics.
“We need to be cautious about the intentions of this administration,” said Grant Smith of the Drug Policy Alliance. “An emergency declaration can be used for good. It can help free up federal resources, help prioritize responses by the federal gov, help give the administration leverage to request legislation from Congress.”
On the other hand, Smith said, “all of those things I just mentioned could be used to further the war on drugs. It could give the administration leverage to push for new sentencing legislation. Or legislation that enhances [drug] penalties or law enforcement response. It could give [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions more leverage to push the agenda that he has been pushing.””
The icing on the cake is that many national emergency declarations are never lifted. As USA Today reported, we are still living under a national emergency declared by Jimmy Carter 35 years ago. There are currently 32 states of national emergency in effect in the United States. George W. Bush declared a state of emergency three days after 9/11, one that was renewed six times by Obama, and is still in effect:
“Those emergencies, declared by the president by proclamation or executive order, give the president extraordinary powers — to seize property, call up the National Guard and hire and fire military officers at will.
“What the National Emergencies Act does is like a toggle switch, and when the president flips it, he gets new powers. It’s like a magic wand. and there are very few constraints about how he turns it on,” said Kim Lane Scheppele, a professor at Princeton University.”
Which is why greater restraint should be imposed on the ability of future chief executives to make these declarations. They often outlive their purpose, but that doesn’t mean they die.