At First Meeting Of Opioid Commission, Healthcare Coverage Is ‘Elephant In The Room’

By Kelly Burch 06/23/17

Experts and others affected by the epidemic testified about the need to promote comprehensive treatment and step away from the drug war.

Members of the opioid commission meeting last week.
Members of the opioid commission meeting last week. Photo via YouTube

President Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis met for the first time last week, with New Jersey Governor and commission chairman Chris Christie leading a discussion about drug addiction while experts stressed the need for health care coverage that includes addiction treatment.

“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,” said Roy Cooper, the governor of North Carolina and a member of the commission, according to The New Yorker. “If we make it harder and more expensive for people to get health care coverage, it’s going to make this crisis worse.”

Dr. Joe Parks, the medical director of the National Council for Behavioral Health, reminded the commission that “Medicaid is the largest national payer for addiction and mental health treatment,” while former Massachusetts Congressman Patrick Kennedy, who is in recovery, said that the health care debate and potential Medicaid cuts were “the elephant in the room.”

Presidential advisors Jared Kushner and Kellyanne Conway sat through the session, but did not comment.

At the meeting, addiction specialists and people whose lives have been touched by the opioid epidemic testified about the need to promote comprehensive treatment and step away from the War on Drugs mentality of jailing people with addiction. 

The experts did not shy away from the grim reality of the situation. 

“Most terrifying is the reality that nothing we’re doing today has been able to hold the spread of opioid addiction,” said Dr. Mitchell Rosenthal, deputy chairman of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, according to U.S. News & World Report. “Adequate treatment resources are scarce, and there’s enormous disparity between one state and another in treatment and prevention services that are available.“

Kennedy spoke to the commission about the need for transparency around issues of addiction. 

"I’ve been someone who has received medication-assisted treatment, I’m also someone who’s in 12-step recovery. So this is personal for me, as it is for everyone else. I also grew up in a family where addiction and alcoholism was rampant and, unlike today, it was something that we never talked about," he said.

Rosenthal emphasized that the commission needed to address access to quality treatment options. 

“If the commission does nothing else, I would hope your report recommends the expansion of true, long-term treatment, treatment that lasts as long as needed," he said. "It will actually save money by reducing the number of multiple admissions, and it will truly save lives rather than today’s practice that so often amounts to postponing death.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.