Representative Tom Marino, the Pennsylvania Republican who Mr. Trump had named to head his Office of National Drug Control Policy, withdrew last week after reports that he did the bidding of the pharmaceutical industry in weakening law enforcement’s ability to curb drug sales in efforts to block black-market sales of opioids. The White House has yet to announce a new candidate.
And Tom Price resigned last month as health secretary after it was revealed he was flying on private jets paid for with taxpayer dollars; a nominee has not been named for that post as well.
But the officials said a public health emergency declaration would quickly lead to crucial changes, including the provision of federal grant money and the expansion of access to telemedicine services, which would broaden the reach of medical treatment to rural areas ravaged by opioid use where doctors are often in short supply.
Mr. Trump’s promises to focus on the opioid crisis helped propel him to victory in New Hampshire’s primary last year. The crisis has claimed tens of thousands of lives — more than 59,000, according to a Times study of drug deaths in 2016 — and appears to be growing worse by the day.
Mr. Trump formed an opioid commission in March and installed Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a rival for the Republican nomination who had championed the issue during the 2016 race, at the helm. In July, the commission recommended that the president declare a national emergency, something Mr. Price had ruled out in part because of concerns about an open-ended commitment of federal dollars. But Mr. Trump surprised his advisers by telling reporters soon after that he was ready to take just such a step.
There have been few major actions to match those words, even as administration officials have worked feverishly behind the scenes to come to an agreement on an opioid policy that would reflect the president’s position.
In the meantime, members of Mr. Trump’s opioid commission and lawmakers in both parties have grown impatient for action. On Wednesday, a group of Democrats led by Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan released a letter they wrote to the president asking him to allow the government to negotiate lower prices for naloxone, a drug that quickly counteracts the effects of opioid overdoses. Declaring a state of emergency would give the secretary of Health and Human Services the power to seek such price reductions, they said.