The opioid crisis in America has hit a new high while government efficiency has reached a new low.
Thanks to the epidemic of opioid-related overdose deaths across the country (33,000 lives lost in 2015 alone), President Donald Trump's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis is asking the president to declare a public health emergency. Unfortunately, the report released by the commission is a month late, prompting The Intercept to question the task force's efficacy.
Early in his presidency, Trump issued an executive order that established the commission, ordering it to have interim recommendations regarding the opioid crisis ready by June 27. A final report was meant to follow, having an Oct. 1 deadline. Unfortunately, the group, which is comprised of members of the medical industry as well as Democrats and Republicans, delayed the release of the report twice under New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's leadership. Finally, on July 31, the commission dropped the report.
When justifying the delay, Christie said that 8,000 public comments regarding the research were to blame. Because of the volume of responses, he said on a conference call, the commission had to delay the publication of the report “so we could take [them] into account.”
If the president were to follow the group's recommendations and issue a declaration of emergency, the secretary of Health and Human Services would be able to place at-risk people on Medicare insurance. As a result, the price of prescription drugs used in the fight opioid addiction would be reduced.
The declaration would also allow the Public Health Emergency Fund to allocate taxpayer money to support research into efficient treatments and prevention methodologies.
In this case, the fund, which only held $57,000 by the end of 2016, would require more support, forcing Congress to appropriate more money. But Trump's lack of dedication to this commission or its recommendations show that he may not be willing to go that far.
Still, leading members of the health care industry, such as Joshua Sharfstein, the associate dean for public health practice and training at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, agree that forcing Congress to act on getting more money into research and treatment would be a positive development.
“There are some mechanisms by which an emergency declaration could lead to a more rapid expansion of access to effective treatment,” Sharfstein said. And that, he added, “could certainly save lives.”
But other recommendations that could help to avoid deaths have already been widely available.
Last November's Surgeon General's Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health urged government officials to give addicts enhanced access to Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), adding that the overdose-reversing drug naloxone should be more readily available to law enforcement, emergency personnel, and others. The report also called for better educational campaigns and greater support for community-based treatment programs.
Despite the recommendations, The Intercept reports, the Trump administration has fallen short of taking action. With the delay of the release of the commission's own report, it appears that the president may not be as interested in following their recommendations either.
As the current administration asks for deep budget cuts that would affect the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, other agencies that remain engaged in the fight against opioid abuse, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control, would also be impacted.
According to Harold Pollack, professor in public health at the University of Chicago, the administration's proposed cuts plus its reluctance to implement changes “is making it harder to address the crisis.”
It's difficult to imagine government will be able to develop any sound strategy that would effectively bring the opioid crisis to an end. The Trump administration insists on staying mum about the latest recommendations. It also claims to be doing all it can to fight the opioid crisis by having simply created the commission even though it isn't acting on the discoveries.
As a result, thousands will continue to die.
Banner and thumbnail image credit: Reuters/Henry Romero