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The President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Epidemic

6/16/2017

The President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Epidemic

Eisenhower Executive Office Building

June 16, 2017

In the first meeting of President Donald Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, Chairman Chris Christie noted that the group’s biggest challenge will be bringing the disease of addiction “out of the shadows and into the light.”

Christie and fellow members of The President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis — the governors of Massachusetts and North Carolina, a former congressman from Rhode Island, and a Harvard psychobiologist -- heard from the advocates during a two hour meeting in the ornate office building next door to the White House.

Joining them were two of President Donald Trump's top advisers, counselor Kellyanne Conway and son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as Dr. Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, and Dr. David Shulkin, secretary of veterans affairs.

The meeting began with opening remarks from commission members. A recurring theme among the Democrats on the panel was concern over potential cuts to Medicaid funding.

In his opening remarks, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper noted, "We cannot arrest our way out of this problem," Cooper said. "At the addiction level, we need treatment and prevention. We're kidding ourselves if we don't think that what is happening over in Congress regarding issues of health care matters to this issue. If we make it harder and more expensive for people to get health care coverage, it is going to make this crisis worse.” Cooper also noted, “We need to look into generic companies making more drugs tamper resistant and looking at making drugs that do not cause addiction so severely.”

Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), who now lives in Brigantine and had his own well-publicized problems with substance abuse, also expressed concern over potential cuts to Medicaid. “It is the elephant in the room,” said Kennedy. “It is the largest provider of coverage for those with mental illness and addiction in this county. So we have to mention that any repeal of Medicaid is a repeal of coverage that we currently have out there. I hope the commission can come up with some solutions… To ensure that we don’t step back just as we need to be stepping forward on this terrible epidemic.”

9 non-profit organizations offered statements to the commission about their experiences with the opioid epidemic. The following organizations were in attendance: The Partnership for Drug Free Kids, The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, The National Council for Behavioral Health, Shatterproof, Addiction Policy Reform, The American Society of Addiction Medicine, Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, Young People in Recovery, and The American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry.

Joe Parks of the National Council on Behavioral Health said Americans are dying today from two great epidemics: opioid abuse and mental illness. “To fight an epidemic, you must screen for an illness… and make sure those who screen positively have access to effective treatment.”

Mitchell Rosenthal of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence told the commission that few states have the kind of residential treatment needed to effectively combat the opioid epidemic. “If the commission does nothing else, I would hope your report recommends the expansion of true long-term treatment,” Rosenthal said, adding “Treatment works. We just have to provide it. It will truly save lives rather than today’s practice of postponing death.”

Others, such as Gary Mendell of Shatterproof, advocated for bipartisan efforts in government and collaboration between the public and private sectors to fight against the opioid epidemic. “Working together, Republicans and Democrats, state officials, government officials, businesses, families…. We can save countless lives of those yet to be lost,” said Mendell.

After the invited organizations spoke, there was an open dialogue between the commission members and the invited guests.

Christie concluded the meeting by saying that one of the biggest problems in the opioid epidemic is stigma. “So much of this is going to be about us speaking out very strongly about the fact that this is a disease that can be treated and it is not a moral failing,” said Christie. He continued, noting “I can tell you the President cares deeply about this issue, and he is prepared to involve himself directly and personally in trying to help lift this stigma across the country. He understands it well and personally, and I know that he will work with us on this.”

The commission plans to issue an interim report "probably within the next three weeks" and that it has been working predominately with states and the non-profit community to find successful policies that could be replicated nationally. The final report is due to President Trump by October 1st of this year, unless the commission is extended.

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Click here for a PDF of the summary


Click here to view a live stream of the meeting

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