Chuck Schumer: Opioid Commission Is 'Dragging Its Feet'

By Paul Gaita 07/26/17

The New York Senator is demanding that the opioid commission immediately get its act together.

Chuck Schumer

Days before taking to the Senate floor to urge fellow lawmakers to vote against opening debate on the Affordable Health Care Act (AHCA), Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) turned up the heat on the Trump administration's failure to meet deadlines in developing a plan to combat the national opioid dependency crisis.

Speaking on July 23rd, Schumer lambasted the White House Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis for missing its own deadline to present an interim report with strategies on improving the federal government's efforts to fight the opioid epidemicnot once, but twiceby pushing a teleconference initially set for July 17th to the 31st.

Speaking before the press on Sunday, Schumer accused the commission and the Trump administration of "dragging its feet on steps that could help save lives," and laid the blame for the delays squarely on commission memberswhich include New Jersey Governor Chris Christiecalling their lack of action "inertia."

Schumer's comments come on the heels of a letter he signedalong with 19 other Senate Democratsissued to Richard Baum, acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which urged him to "consider important initiatives that could help deliver faster relief to millions of Americans." The letter directly called out the Commission for dragging its feet on implementing recommendations for fighting the opioid crisis issued by former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in 2016.

"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," the letter's co-signers wrote. They also took the opportunity to excoriate Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Tom Price, who in May labeled medication-assisted treatments for opioid dependencylike Suboxone or methadoneas "substituting one opioid for another."

"[Price] vouched for methods that would 'cure' people of their opioid addiction," the letter's authors wrote. "Such rhetoric is archaic and out of line with the well-accepted fact that opioid addiction may require lifelong management as a chronic condition." Price's comments had previously earned a rebuke from nearly 700 health professionals who backed the science demonstrating the effectiveness of such treatments.

The White House did not respond to requests for comment about the letter, and instead referred all inquiries to Baum's office. However, Governor Christie spoke shortly after missing the second deadline, saying that he had asked for an extension because of an abundance of public comments the commission received after its first open meeting.

"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.

However, Christie's press secretary, Brian Murray, directly addressed the criticism by stating, "It's unfortunate there are some who want to make addiction and the nation's opioid crisis a partisan issue. This type of rhetoric simply has no place in the important mission we have undertaken." 

The Commission, created by executive order from President Trump in March 2017, was given a deadline of 90 days from its inception (June 27th) to file a report detailing proposed strategies for how to tackle the drug crisis. The Commission missed that deadline, announcing that it would release the report during a conference call on July 17th. But a notice on the Federal Register showed that the group had rescheduled the call for July 31st.

The Commission must also meet a October 1st deadline imposed by President Trump to issue its final report.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.