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Our View: Federal action needed for opioid crisis

How bad has the opioid drug problem become in America? And even right here in the Red River Valley?

It's so bad that local police recently warned heroin users to use caution after four overdoses in a short period last month. Again: Police are urging drug users to be careful.

Police said users supposed they were buying a white powder form of heroin, but the batch evidently was laced with fentanyl, which can be deadly even in small doses. Hoping to save lives via transparency and awareness, police rightly sent out the notice that the batch of heroin making the rounds was potentially deadly.

None of the four overdoses proved fatal but all required life-saving measures.

The Grand Forks police announcement certainly was an odd circumstance, but maybe one that saved a life. And so it goes as the epidemic continues.

That's why we were pleased when President Trump announced earlier this month that the opioid crisis in America has become — in his words — a "national emergency" and "a serious problem the likes of which we have never had."

Just one problem: The urgency Trump created hasn't yet been followed by much action. His statement was just that — a statement — and nothing official.

The president did declare this week, Sept. 17-23, as Drug Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week. In the declaration, he noted that some 64,000 Americans died last year because of drug use. It also noted that nearly 100 Americans die each day from opioid overdoses.

That proclamation is a good start, although it mirrors a proclamation by Barack Obama a year ago. It's not new, it's not innovative and it doesn't portray the urgency needed to combat the crisis we all know exists. It is a gesture, but not a bold fight. At least so far.

We anxiously await a more dramatic effort, and one that's aimed specifically at curbing opioid abuse in America and, specifically, in Minnesota and North Dakota. Declaring an official national emergency could allow for more federal dollars to flow in to states that are being ravaged by this new, sad trend.

On Aug. 10, the president was firm with his stance against the opioid crisis.

"I'm saying officially right now it is an emergency," he said. "It's a national emergency."

He also said he was working on a plan to make an official declaration. Of course, other crises have arisen in the form of nuclear threats from North Korea and weather disasters in the South. The president has a lot on his plate.

Yet the opioid crisis continues. And it's so bad that law-enforcement agencies are resorting to campaigns to warn drug users about potentially bad batches of the deadly stuff.

It's time for a real national emergency declaration.