Trump Creates Commission to Fight Opioid Crisis

trump-creates-anti-opioid-commissionYou’re probably aware America is in the middle of a drug crisis. New records for drug overdose deaths have been set every year over the past three. Opioid drugs, especially heroin and prescription pills, are the most fatal. More than 135 Americans die from drug overdoses every single day. Both major political parties have consistently been working together to combat this crisis, yet the death toll rises. Obama and his administration fought very hard for addicts. Last year’s Comprehensive Addiction & Recovery Act, a major milestone in fighting opioid addiction, was passed into law by Congress unanimously. Plus, any health insurance purchased from the ‘Obamacare marketplace,’ as it had come to be called, must cover addiction recovery. President Trump, like him or not, continued in this tradition on March 29, when he established a commission with the goal of fixing the opioid problem. We are fully aware of how Trump has polarized the nation, and we want you the reader to know that the content of this article strictly focuses on the president’s recent action to combat opioid addiction.

The Opioid Commission (and its Mission)

With a big name, (President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis), the commission also seems to promise big impact. The commission was created as an executive order, signed after a listening session which “brought together leaders from inside and outside government, and with diverse political backgrounds, to discuss solutions on how best to combat this crisis,” according to the above-linked press release. The chair of the commission is Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie, who has worked very hard recently to fight opioid addiction in his state, despite public setbacks. The plan to fight addiction that Christie laid out for New Jersey is reflected in the current mission of the President’s Commission. The idea is basically to identify any flaws in current approaches and fix them. The mission consists of six parts. In simple terms, they are:
  1. To figure out exactly where all Federal funding for combating addiction is going
  1. To identify which parts of the country have the least access to treatment services and/or overdose reversal medication
  1. To identify the best practices for preventing addiction, including educating healthcare providers, evaluating nationwide opioid prescription, and utilizing prescription drug monitoring programs
  1. To review and evaluate educational messages on opioid addiction
  1. To evaluate Federal programs for drug abuse prevention and treatment
  1. To make recommendations to President Trump regarding national response to the drug addiction crisis
Members will be appointed by Trump, and “shall be selected so that membership is fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented…,” as written in the executive order itself. Members will not be compensated for their time. A full report covering all parts of the mission is due by 1 October 2017, and the commission will dissolve thirty days after submitting the report.

A Group Effort

President Trump and his appointed chairman, Governor Christie, are both Republicans. However, politically speaking, the fight against drug addiction is a group effort. Among the many Democrats ready to aid the commission are North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and Jared Kushner, the president’s senior adviser. Kushner also happens to be Trump’s son-in-law. Making it an even smaller world, Jared’s father, Charles Kushner, was put in jail for illegal campaign contributions back in 2004. The US Attorney prosecuting the case? Chris Christie. Obviously any and all past animosity has been forgotten in the face of the opioid crisis. The commission staff has not been fully named as of yet – at least not publicly. The Office of National Drug Control Policy will provide administrative support. Other who will be playing an active role include Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly, Bertha Madras of Harvard Medical School, head of DEA Chuck Rosenberg, and Secretary of Education Betsey DeVos, among others.

Will it Work?

There is some debate as to whether or not the President’s Commission will be effective. Secretary DeVos praised the commission, calling it “a productive first step to better serve those suffering from addiction and the victims impacted by this crisis.” Gov. Christie said he was “honored” to be part of it, and promised the absolute best results, his promise made more sincere by the fact that one of Christie’s close friends from law school became addicted to opioids and eventually died from them. However, on the other side of things, US Representative Katherine Clark said, “Trump is paying lip service to families devastated by the opioid crisis. While he’s staging photo ops around this deadly epidemic, he’s also trying to kick patients off their lifesaving treatment.” Congressman Jim McGovern added, “The fact that it has taken President Trump more than 60 days to set up this opioid commission speaks volumes about how seriously he’s taking the epidemic.” Criticism of the commission also comes regarding the lack of a specific plan. Upon further review, the six parts of the commission’s mission do seem vague. However, it seems Trump has outlined specifically what he wants to do. Let’s get to the bottom of Trump’s drug policies and get a glimpse at what the future of addiction recovery will look like under our 45th president.

Trump’s Policies

During October of last year, Trump released a four-point plan for combating opioid addiction. He further expanded on these ideas in a press release. As of now, Trump’s four main plans to fight drug addiction are to:
  1. Build a wall along the US-Mexico border in order to prevent illegal drug smuggling.
This author does not believe Trump means a literal wall, but rather a figurative one. “The wall” includes aggressive prosecution of drug dealers and traffickers, dismantling drug cartels and drug-selling gangs, and ending so-called Sanctuary Cities, “which refuse to turn over illegal immigrant drug traffickers for deportation,” according to the press release.
  1. Shut down all shipping of fentanyl and related chemicals from China.
There are numerous Chinese factories that sell unregulated amounts of fentanyl, and the chemicals needed to make fentanyl, to any online buyer. Cartels from Mexico are ordering fentanyl from China and bringing it into the US. Currently there is a fentanyl epidemic in America as death rates from the powerful opioid are skyrocketing. According to Trump’s press release: “These traffickers use loopholes in the Postal Service to mail fentanyl and other drugs to users and dealers in the US. A Trump administration will crack down on this abuse, and give law enforcement the tools they need to accomplish this mission.”
  1. Increase access to recovery meds, limit Schedule II drugs, expand treatment, and monitor prescriptions.
In the press release linked above, Trump promises to “dramatically expand first responders’ and caregivers’ access to Narcan, an antidote that treats overdoses and saves thousands of lives.” He also wants to limit the amount of Schedule II opioid drugs manufactured each year. The DEA already sets such limits, and for opioids the limit has actually gone up recently. Trump further says he will “dramatically expand access to treatment slots and end Medicaid policies that obstruct inpatient treatment,” surely referring to the fact that up to 89% of opioid addicts do not receive the treatment they need, for a range of reasons. The president also wants to crack down on over-prescription of opioids, saying, “We prescribe opioids like OxyContin freely, but when patients become addicted to those drugs, we stop doctors from giving patients the treatments they medically need.”
  1. Continue to help recovering addicts with CARA.
This is a big one. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, (CARA), passed by Obama, sparked a capability to make some real changes in the realm of addiction recovery. Toward the end of his presidency, Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act, which among other things pledged $1 billion toward fighting the addiction crisis in America. This was essentially fortification of CARA. Trump promises to follow in the wake. More plans of Trump’s include using incentives for states to use drug courts and mandated treatment when necessary, vowing to improve Federal programs regarding addiction prevention & recovery, and even “restoring accountability” to the Veterans Administration, which has been plagued by a growing number of veteran addicts due to careless prescribing.

The Listening Session

As mentioned prior, before Trump signed the executive order creating the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, there was a listening session held at the White House. All those mentioned in this article, and many more, attended. The focus of the session was to bring to light the depth of the crisis on our hands, and to discuss the best means of solving the problem. Among those in attendance were Pam Garozzo, AJ Solomon, and Vanessa Vitolo, three people whose lives have been deeply touched by the opioid crisis. Their stories did more than bring the crisis to light. Pam Garozzo is an employee with the Department of Education. Her son, Carlos, overdosed on heroin and died at age 23, and ever since, Pam has been on the front lines of the war against opioids. Carlos had been clean for ten months, decided to use again, and was dealt a fatal mixture of heroin and fentanyl, an opioid fifty times stronger than heroin itself. AJ Solomon is the son of Supreme Court justice Lee Solomon and is a close friend of Governor Christie. Solomon suffered with an opioid addiction for many years. He was actually getting heroin before going to work as a political aide himself. “He was homeless and on the verge of suicide before deciding to get clean,” reports Politico. Within three years, Solomon cleaned himself up and opened his own treatment facility in New Jersey. Part of Christie’s reform was inspired by Solomon. The bad half of Vanessa Vitolo’s story is similar to that of thousands of Americans. She injured herself, was prescribed Percocet, moved to OxyContin, and then to heroin. She lost it all, became homeless, and took up shelter on the streets. The second half is enviable. Vitolo was sent to Integrity House, a treatment center, got sober, became a manager at her place of employment, and got her own apartment. Hers is a success story – the majority are not.

In Conclusion

Sometimes the smartest first move when attacking is to stop and think about the best way to attack. This seems to be what the President’s Commission is doing. While all done with the best intentions, the past decade’s efforts toward fighting the opioid epidemic have obviously not helped. Instead of hurling more money at the efforts, Trump has decided to assess the situation. Not that his plan is perfect. There are still some questions left to be asked, especially about how exactly to crack down on the over-prescribing of opioids. As previous Surgeon General Vivek Murthy pointed out when in office, there are enough opioid drugs being prescribed every year to give every American a full bottle of pills. Another question that remains is how exactly to stop fentanyl from being ordered online by Mexicans and Americans alike. I suppose we wait until October 1st, when the commission issues its final report.

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