Newt Gingrich On How Trump Will Tackle the Opioid Crisis

By Zachary Siegel 11/17/16

The former Speaker of the House spoke with The Fix about CARA, healthcare reform, and medication-assisted treatment.

Newt Gingrich On How Trump Will Tackle the Opioid Crisis

Counties across the Rust Belt with high overdose mortality rates voted overwhelmingly for President-elect Donald J. Trump. What kind of policies and plans would a Trump Administration implement to aid those who helped him win the White House? 

On the campaign trail, Trump promised to build a wall which he said would prevent heroin from “pouring across” the border. Trump also said he would “spend the money” to help Americans receive addiction treatment. 

Trump has yet to announce who will head the Department of Health and Human Services, the department charged with protecting the health of all Americans. But former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, a key player in Trump’s transition to the White House, happens to be a co-founder of Advocates for Opioid Recovery, a nonprofit organization that advocates for using science and evidence to tackle the opioid crisis. 

The Fix interviewed Gingrich to get a sense of how a Trump Administration would address the opioid epidemic. 

"I hope to play a role in Congress and in the Trump Administration in describing the kinds of health reforms we need across the board,” Gingrich told The Fix. “That does include Mental Health Parity and it does include the use of all of the sophisticated techniques for addiction treatment and recovery.” 

Gingrich said that starting in January there will be a lot of health care issues on the table, starting with repealing Obamacare. Gingrich did not go into detail about what kind of system would replace Obamacare. 

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump said he is willing to keep some parts of Obamacare, namely letting people in their 20s remain on their parents' plans as well as prohibiting insurers from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

Gingrich emphasized that there are critical steps to be taken before Trump takes office. “Our hope, of course, before he is even president, is that we’ll get full funding for CARA during the lame-duck session,” Gingrich said. 

CARA is short for the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act, which would award grants that address the heroin and opioid epidemic through advancing evidenced-based treatment, overdose prevention and other measures. 

Last July, President Obama signed CARA into law but blamed Republicans for failing to fund it. “I am deeply disappointed that Republicans failed to provide any real resources for those seeking addiction treatment,” Obama said in a statement. 

Gingrich noted that the opioid crisis is one of few political areas with bipartisan support. “The country is very sympathetic and very positive about an approach which would enable us to deal with the epidemic in a much more aggressive way,” Gingrich said. 

For him, that means “using modern science to maximize people’s ability to recover.”

But Gingrich said in order to do that there needs to be “a real debate about approaches that are working, which is medication-assisted treatment.” 

Gingrich said that he does not know who will head the Department of Health, but that Americans should expect that whoever it is will be very committed to this issue. 

South Dakota's Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard decided he would not pursue an expansion of Medicaid in 2017 after he met with Vice President-elect Mike Pence. Gutting Obamacare and slashing Medicaid are key features of the Republican ticket, and it's unclear how low-income folks who voted for Trump would get the health care they need.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.