On Monday, President Donald Trump’s opioid commission issued their first report on the ongoing crisis, urging the president to declare a national emergency.
In the report, the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis said, “Your declaration would empower your cabinet to take bold steps and would force Congress to focus on funding and empowering the Executive Branch even further to deal with this loss of life. It would also awaken every American to this simple fact: if this scourge has not found you or your family yet, without bold action by everyone, it soon will.”
Commission members, led by Gov. Chris Christie, pointed to the fact that, on average, 142 Americans die every day from drug-related overdoses, comparing the situation to “a death toll equal to September 11th every three weeks.”
The commission also laid out a number of other steps they advise the president to take, including:
- Grant waiver approvals for all 50 states to quickly eliminate barriers to treatment resulting from the federal Institutes for Mental Diseases (IMD) exclusion within the Medicaid program.
- Mandate prescriber education initiatives with the assistance of medical and dental schools across the country.
- Immediately establish and fund a federal incentive to enhance access to Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT).
- Provide model legislation for states to allow naloxone dispensing via standing orders.
- Prioritize funding and manpower to the DHS Customs and Border Protection, FBI, and DEA to develop fentanyl detection sensors and disseminate them to law enforcement agencies.
While the attention to MAT and naloxone distribution represents a more progressive approach to harm reduction, the idea that law enforcement simply needs better fentanyl detection equipment ignores the fact that much of the problem stems from prescription opioids. The commission even attempted to blame the flow of fentanyl on China, saying the issue “must become a top tier diplomatic issue with the Chinese.”
The call for increased access to treatment and MAT is also undermined by the current healthcare debate, in which Republicans sought to slash Medicaid funding, potentially cutting off treatment access for millions of Americans.
Still, the report as a whole represents a more reasoned approach to the opioid crisis than had previously been seen in the Trump administration, which had instead focused more on increased criminal penalties as a way to deter dealers and users.
The report comes after the commission had missed two earlier self-imposed deadlines, leading Senate Democrats to call for urgent action on the issue.