Oct. 26 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump declared a national public health emergency to tackle the "human tragedy" of opioid addiction Thursday -- a crisis that caused more than 60,000 deaths in the United States last year.
Trump signed an executive order making the declaration official during an event with families affected by the opioid crisis, the Cabinet and members of Congress. He called it the "worst drug crisis in American history."
"We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic," Trump said, adding that he's directing executive agencies to "use every appropriate emergency authorization" to fight the crisis.
In 2016, more than 64,000 people died from drug overdoses and more than 2 million had an addiction to prescription or illicit opioids, figures released by the White House said. The president said opioid deaths are four times higher than in 1999 and the United States has more opioid pills per person than any other country "by far."
"For too long we have allowed drugs to ravage american homes, citites and towns," he said. "We owe it to our children and to our country to do everything in our power to address this national shame and human tragedy."
Awareness campaigns and prescriber education plans already in place are expected to be unified with other aggressive protocols under an emergency declaration from Trump -- which includes funding for the Department of Health and Human Services, the department's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, the Department of Labor and other federal agencies.
Funding also will be increased for HIV/AIDS patients with addictions to narcotic pain medications like OxyContin, hydrocodone and fentanyl.
Trump said he's pushing the National Institutes of Health to work to find non-addictive painkiller alternatives and for the Department of Justice to "aggressively" target individuals and companies for illicit distribution of drugs.
The administration also is channeling funds into a "massive advertising campaign" so Americans can "see the devastation and ruination" opioids can cause.
"The best way to prevent drug addiction and overdose is to prevent people from abusing drugs in the first place. If they don't start, they won't have a problem," Trump said.
Trump invoked the memory of his brother, Fred Trump, who was an alcoholic until his death in 1981.
"He would tell me, 'don't drink,'" Trump said. "He would say it over and over and over again, and to this day, I've never had a drink.
"I had somebody that guided me," the president added. "If we can teach young people not to start, it's really easy not to take" drugs.
This year, Trump has signed two executive orders to fight the crisis.
A February order addressed drug cartels importing fentanyl and other opioids into the country. Another order a month later established a commission to investigate how to proceed. That panel issued a draft report in July, and will deliver its final report to Trump on Nov. 1.
Earlier this month, the Department of Justice issued its first indictments for illegal drug distribution under existing U.S. opioid policies.
White House officials also said Thursday that Trump's administration is moving to fill vacancies of Health and Human Services secretary and directorship of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.