Twenty Senate Democrats have written a letter to President Donald Trump, urging him to act more quickly on the nation’s opiate crisis. They drafted the letter to Richard Baum, acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, after the president’s new drug commission missed a second, self-imposed deadline to release an interim report.
The President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis held its first meeting in June.
The signees, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, asked him to “consider important initiatives that could help deliver faster relief to millions of Americans. As the Commission is taking steps to address drug addiction, we are concerned that essential components, such as action on already existing recommendations, are being delayed,” they wrote.
The senators also urged the Trump administration to do more to combat the opioid epidemic, including implementing recommendations put forward by former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in a November 2016 report.
The group expressed its opposition to an administration budget proposal that would cut almost $400 million in funding for drug and mental health programs, and the Department of Justice’s increasing focus on treating drug addiction as a criminal justice issue. “For the millions of Americans currently suffering from addiction or abuse, another day could be a matter of life or death,” they wrote.
Gov. Chris Christie told the Associated Press that he requested for an extension because of a large number of public comments the commission had received after its first public meeting.
“I asked for an extension because we got over 8,000 public comments after our first public meeting and I did not think it was appropriate not to review all of those public comments, and to the extent necessary, address some of them in the interim report,” he said.
The commission had been directed to submit its interim report within 90 days of the March 29 presidential order that established the commission.
The panel’s mission is to identify federal funding streams that could be directed to address the crisis, determine the best practices for prevention and recovery, evaluate federal programs and the U.S. health system to identify regulatory barriers or ineffective initiatives like prescribing practices, and consider changes to the criminal justice system.
Christie Press Secretary Brian Murray accused the Democrats of trying to use the opiate crisis for political gain. “This type of rhetoric simply has no place in the important mission we have undertaken.”
The letter’s signees include Sens. Dianne Feinstein, Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker.
The commission has also drawn criticism from others in the drug policy arena. “We don’t yet fully know what the Trump policy towards the opioid crisis will be,” Leo Beletsky,a law professor at Northeastern University who specializes in health and drug policy, told the New Hampshire Journal.
“During the campaign, he made statements supporting treatment access and focusing on interdiction at the US-Mexico border,” he added. ‘Since the election, we have heard much about the ‘Wall,’ other interdiction efforts, and criminal justice tools to combat the crisis, but not so much about the treatment issue.”
Beletsky also questioned the involvement of Sessions, who has been a vocal proponent of punishing drug offenders, rather than providing treatment. “Jeff Sessions is a long-time adherent to the idea that we can arrest and punish our way out of substance misuse in this country — an idea that has been a demonstrable failure and one that has frankly brought us to where we are today,” he said.
The other commission members include Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, and Defense Secretary James Mattis. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey as chairman, Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, former congressman Patrick Kennedy and Dr. Bertha Madras, a Harvard Medical School professor who specializes in addiction biology.