The Trump administration hasn't done everything it can to battle the opioid crisis under a public health emergency it declared in 2017, a federal watchdog found.
The Government Accountability Office said the administration has used the declaration to do things like cut red tape for states or reduce paperwork. But there are several other steps that haven't been taken, a finding that Democrats pounced on as evidence that the Trump administration isn't doing enough.
“President Trump, as this report shows, has broken his promises to do his part,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. “I’ve asked this administration time and time again to show what actions they are taking to meaningfully address this crisis. No response.”
The GAO found that since Trump declared opioid abuse a national emergency in October 2017, his administration has used three authorities pursuant to the public health emergency.
[Related: CDC director calls for destigmatizing addiction to confront opioid crisis]
One was a waiver under the Paperwork Reduction Act to allow the Department of Health and Human Services to field a survey of more than 13,000 prescribers to assess prescribing trends for medication used to treat opioid use, GAO said. The agency also waived a public notice period to approve two state Medicaid experiments on the delivery of opioid addiction treatment, and sped up research on opioid use disorder treatments.
But GAO found that as of July 2018, there were 14 other authorities that became available after the declaration that the administration has not used.
HHS said it hasn’t used the authorities for several reasons.
“For example, HHS officials determined that many are not relevant to the circumstances presented by the opioid crisis,” the report said. “Some of these authorities have been used during previous public health emergency declarations for infectious disease outbreaks, such as the Zika virus, and for public health emergencies resulting from hurricanes, such as Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.”
Public health declarations have more commonly been used for a specific infectious disease outbreak like Zika or Ebola.
But there were other reasons for not using the full authority. For example, during a public health emergency, the administration could reduce restrictions on the use of telemedicine when prescribing a controlled substance like an opioid addiction treatment.
“HHS officials stated that they have not used this authority because federal law provides for other circumstances under which these restrictions do not apply, thereby allowing the use of telemedicine,” the GAO said. “Officials also expressed concern about increasing the risk of diversion of medications for improper use and maintaining high quality of care.”
HHS told GAO it will look into the relevance of the remaining authorities to see whether they should be employed.