Patrick Kennedy ‘Cynical’ About Government's Efforts To Address Opioid Crisis

By Victoria Kim 01/25/18

The opioid commission member says Trump delivered a “great, great speech” by declaring the public health crisis and then did “nothing.” 

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Patrick J Kennedy
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Patrick Kennedy isn’t too happy with how the Trump administration has handled the national drug crisis. 

In a new interview with CNN, the former U.S. representative from Massachusetts, who was one of six members appointed to the White House opioid commission, said he’s become disenchanted with federal efforts to reduce the harms of the opioid crisis.

“This is essentially a sham,” he stated, pointing to the administration’s unwillingness to dedicate any funding to the issue.

The opioid commission—established last March and headed by former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie—submitted a report that listed 56 recommendations that included expanding the use of recovery coaches and exploring telemedicine to reach Americans who live in remote areas.  

Last October, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency—which “would allow for some grant money to be used to combat opioid abuse, permit the hiring of specialists to tackle the crisis, and expand the use of telemedicine services to treat people in rural areas ravaged by opioid abuse,” as The New York Times explained.

However, the president has not requested funding to act on the emergency declaration, though he did say that he’d donate his third-quarter salary ($100,000) to the crisis.  

Kennedy said Washington’s approach hasn’t reflected the urgency of the situation. Opioids alone killed more than 42,000 Americans in 2016—with 40% of deaths attributed to legal prescription opioids. (Heroin and fentanyl are also considered opioids.)

“This and the administration’s other efforts to address the epidemic are tantamount to reshuffling chairs on the Titanic,” said Kennedy. “The emergency declaration has accomplished little because there’s no funding behind it. You can’t expect to stem the tide of a public health crisis... without putting your money where your mouth is.”

Kennedy said Trump delivered a “great, great speech” by declaring the public health crisis and then did “nothing.” 

"Everyone is willing to tolerate the intolerable—and not do anything about it," he said. "I’m as cynical as I’ve ever been about this stuff."

Other health policy experts, including Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen, confirmed that the emergency declaration has so far had no discernible impact. “I have not seen any effect of the state of emergency in any way,” Dr. Wen told CNN. “If this were a true state of emergency, there would be immediate relief of resources that would directly target the front lines, in areas that are hardest hit. Imagine if this was a natural disaster. There would be immediate relief.”

The opioid commission officially disbanded in December. Since that time, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway was appointed to “coordinate and lead the effort.” 

Another opioid commission member, Bertha K. Madras, who was the only other member who would speak to CNN, expressed optimism about the government’s handling of the national opioid epidemic.

“All in all, it’s been a very positive experience. It has made a tremendous impact,” said Madras, a professor of psychobiology at Harvard Medical School who served as deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) under former President George W. Bush. 

Madras told CNN that the ONDCP would follow up on the commission’s recommendations this year, and called for a non-partisan commitment among lawmakers to dedicate real funding to anti-opioid efforts.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr

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