Tennesseans praise President Donald Trump for declaring opioid crisis a 'national emergency'

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters after a security briefing at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., on Aug. 10, 2017.

From the governor and lawmakers to law enforcement and community health groups, Tennesseans across the state praised President Donald Trump's efforts to address the opioid crisis after Trump announced plans Thursday to declare a national emergency to address the issue.

Trump said he is "drawing documents now" to officially label the crisis a national emergency. 

A formal declaration of a public health emergency would give the federal government additional powers to waive health regulations, pay for treatment programs and make overdose-reversing drugs more widely available.

"The governor believes the opioid crisis is one of the biggest challenges facing our state — and the entire country — and fighting it will take responses at the local, state and federal levels," Haslam spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals said. "He supports President Trump's commitment to address the epidemic."

Nashville Mayor Megan Barry has quickly become a national face for the issue in the wake of the death of her only son. Max Barry died from a combination of several drugs, including opioids, on July 29 in Colorado.

“Declaring the opioid crisis a national emergency is a positive step forward for individuals and families impacted all across the country," Barry said in a statement.

"I hope that President Trump’s words declaring this a national emergency will be followed swiftly by resources flowing into our communities to expand the number of treatment beds, while also giving first responders across the United States access to potentially life-saving anti-overdose medication.”

► More:Max Barry died from combination of several drugs, including two opioids, autopsy shows

► More:Mayor Megan Barry opens up about son's drug use and death in return to work

► More:Mayor Megan Barry: Thank you, Nashville

Knoxville Police Department Chief David Rausch has been vocal about the impact of the opioid epidemic, both in East Tennessee and in his own family. He said his department is ready to collaborate with the federal government against the “enemy” of opioid addiction.

“We applaud the president for taking this appropriate and bold step to address this critical issue,” Rausch said. “This epidemic has impacted nearly every family in our community. Lives have been lost, and families have been devastated by the path of destruction caused by this scourge that quite simply was created by deceptive business practices."

Rausch said he looks forward to the specifics of the president's plan.

Waiting for more details

Public health and behavioral health industry leaders want more details on what the White House is working on.

But the mood is optimistic that the issue plaguing families around the state is beginning to get the attention it needs.

“What it says to me, and obviously the details are forthcoming, is that we’re beginning to recognize this is a serious national issue," said Tom Doub, chief clinical and compliance officer at American Addiction Centers. "These drugs are much more dangerous than the drugs many of us grew up with, particularly fentanyl and carfentanil."

► More:Coverage of the opioid crisis in Tennessee

Shelley Walker, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Health, said the state has a “number of efforts to reduce the impact of the opioid epidemic in Tennessee, and will continue to do so” no matter the details that come from Washington, D.C.

It’s too early, Walker said, to speculate on what Trump’s decision will mean for Tennessee.

Doub is hopeful additional treatment resources will become available. People call Brentwood-based AAC but have trouble finding treatment resources because options or resources are limited.

Even as the state and insurers make strides to crack down on prescription painkillers, the number of deaths has continued to rise. The prevalence of heroin and fentanyl in those who have overdosed is growing.

“I’m really glad to see the president and the national leaders on this issue are taking it seriously,” Doub said. "I think it’s a recognition that it’s hitting more broadly than a broad epidemic has hit in the past and that the consequences of abuse are more dangerous in the past. It’s likely to get worse before it gets better."

In the past 15 years, three times as many people have died from an opioid overdose in the United States than the number of Americans who died in the Vietnam War, said Jerry Vagnier, president and CEO of the Helen Ross McNabb Center.

A year ago Cherokee Health Systems, a federally qualified health center that serves 13 rural and urban East Tennessee counties, opened one clinic that integrates physical and mental health services specifically for those recovering from addiction. It’s since added a second provider.

“Opioid abuse is a critical issue that cuts across every segment of our society,” said Dennis Freeman, the organization's president and CEO. “At Cherokee Health Systems, we are deluged with requests for care and are going to do everything we can to take care of the community.”

More outpatient and residential treatment services are among the greatest needs in East Tennessee, and medical complications associated with drug use are taxing East Tennessee’s medical facilities.

Joey Garrison, Michael Collins and USA TODAY contributed to this report.

Reach Jordan Buie at jbuie@tennessean.com or 615-726-5970 and on Twitter @jordanbuie.