On the day President Trump is set to declare the opioid epidemic a public health emergency, the district attorney general’s office said the number of drug overdose deaths in Knox County to date this year already equals the figure for all of 2016.
So far in 2017, 224 people have died from drug overdose in Knox County, according to figures from assistant district attorney general Sean McDermott. That’s the same number of people who died all of last year. At the current rate, the number of drug overdose deaths in the county could reach nearly 300 by Dec. 31.
McDermott said the number of overdoes deaths can fluctuate as autopsies to determine the cause of a person’s death are finalized.
President Trump’s declaration is a step that won’t bring new dollars to fight a scourge that kills nearly 100 Americans a day, but will expand access to medical services in rural areas, among other changes, White House officials said Thursday.
As a result of the public health emergency declaration, officials will be able to expand access to telemedicine services, include substance abuse treatment for people living in rural and remote areas. Officials will also be able to more easily deploy state and federal workers, secure Department of Labor grants for the unemployed, and shift funding for HIV and AIDs programs to provide more substance abuse treatment for people already eligible for those programs.
The Public Health Emergency Fund currently contains just $57,000, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, a negligible amount. Officials would not disclose how much they were seeking.
Leading up to the announcement, Trump had said he wanted to give his administration the “power to do things that you can’t do right now.” As a candidate, he had pledged to make fighting addiction a priority, and pressed the issue in some of the states hardest hit.
Nearly a year ago, Congress also approved $1 billion to tackle addiction as part of the 21st Century Cures Act. States got half their Cures Act grants in April and will get the rest next year.