On Thursday President Trump described the opioid epidemic as an emergency and alluded to putting more resources towards the national health crisis.
If a state of emergency was declared by the Trump administration, it’s possible that additional resources could be made available to states, similar to those during a natural disaster. Another possibility is that waivers could be offered allowing states to be excluded from federal regulations.
Brent Kelsey is the assistant director of the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. He says one way Utah could increase treatment services is by waiving a federal Medicaid rule called the Institutions for Mental Diseases exclusion.
"Facilities larger than 16 beds cannot bill Medicaid, which increasingly is an important payer for services in the state of Utah," Kelsey says.
Kelsey says a waiver for that rule would allow more Medicaid funds to be used for addiction treatment programs.
"We have a lot of facilities that are 40 or 60 beds and allowing those facilities to bill Medicaid would allow those programs to expand," he says.
Kelsey also says medication-assisted treatment is under-utilized in Utah. The possibility of expanding access to drugs like Vivitrol, methadone, and buprenorphine - drugs that help people break opioid addiction - would have a big impact.
Still, Kelsey says the meaning behind Trump’s announcement is not yet clear.
"Related to drugs or alcohol, I’ve never seen the federal government declare a state of emergency," he says.
With Utah currently ranked seventh in the nation for opioid overdose deaths, Kelsey says solutions will require a broad collaboration from increased law enforcement to greater treatment services.