President Trump called the opioid epidemic the "worst drug crisis" to strike the U.S. in its history on Thursday while declaring a public health emergency.
"Nobody has seen anything like this going on now. As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue," Trump said at a White House ceremony alongside advocates and his wife, Melania.
"It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction. ... We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic. We can do it," he said to long, thunderous applause.
It could spur a fight for funding in Congress, as Senate Democrats introduced a bill yesterday to put $45 billion toward the epidemic. Many Republicans also back much more funding to combat the scourge.
Trump said his administration would put "lots of money" toward coming up with nonaddictive painkillers.
Still, the administration had sought to slash funding for the National Institutes of Health by $5.8 billion, a request rebuffed by members of Congress— where the agency receives bipartisan backing.
Trump said the administration will also launch an advertising campaign "to get people, especially children, not to want to take drugs in the first place."
"They will see the devastation and the ruination it causes to people and people's lives,” he pledged.
Trump also mentioned a new policy to help overcome a statutory hurdle that bars Medicaid from paying for some residential treatment facilities, which advocates have wanted.
The opioid crisis has hit both rural and urban areas across America, and overdose deaths from prescription painkillers and heroin have risen sharply. Since 1999, the rate of overdose deaths has more than quadrupled.
The announcement has been months in the making and avoids declaring a more sweeping national emergency under the Stafford Act, which was one option the administration's opioid commission had previously recommended. The commission recommended either a public health emergency or a Stafford Act emergency.
A public health emergency must be renewed every 90 days until the declaration is no longer needed.
Some advocates have been critical of the Thursday declaration, saying they wished the emergency declaration included a funding ask to Congress and was geared toward changing more regulations.
Others have called it an important first step.
"While the president declares it a health emergency, it's a first step,” said Sen. Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanOvernight Hillicon Valley — Majority supports national data privacy standards, poll finds Senator calls on agencies to take action to prevent criminal cryptocurrency use Trump praises NH Senate candidate as Sununu weighs own bid MORE (D-N.H.).
“We're not going to get the kind of response we know we need and we will continue to push for real dollars to accompany this declaration so we can get people the treatment they so desperately need," she said.
Updated 3:20 p.m.