Trump’s Opioid Commission Makes Its Final Recommendations

By Paul Fuhr 11/03/17

Drug court expansion, prevention ad campaigns and wider availability of naloxone were among the commission's recommendations.

Image: 
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the chair of the opioid commission
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the chair of the opioid commission Photo via YouTube

On Wednesday, President Trump’s opioid crisis committee issued dozens of official recommendations in its efforts to combat the epidemic.

According to Reuters, the bipartisan panel suggested tighter prescription guidelines, improved law enforcement methods, comprehensive prevention programs and more drug courts, among other ideas.

Headed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the opioid commission made 56 recommendations in all, which it detailed in its 131-page final report. However, commissioners declined to put a price tag on their suggestions and instead urged Congress to “appropriate sufficient funds” to support Trump’s recent declaration that the opioid crisis is a public health emergency.

While some experts applauded the panel’s recommendations, just as many decried the report’s lack of specificity. Without details, the plan doesn’t define how the solutions will actually be carried out, the Reuters story said. One lawyer described the measures as “toothless” if there is no funding to support the report’s ideas. Still, others tried to remain optimistic about the report’s suggestions. 

"This sounds to me like a very progressive and very needed move," Kosali Simon, an Indiana University health economist said of the commission’s report. Truth be told, officials and lawmakers have been challenged to determine the actual cost of addiction treatment.

Earlier this year, Senate Republicans unsuccessfully tried to give $45 billion in grant money to all of the states hardest hit by the opioid crisis. (An earlier version of the bill suggested only $2 billion for those same states.) Regardless, Ohio Governor John Kasich remarked that the $45 billion plan was “anemic” and was “like spitting in the ocean.” 

One of the commission’s core suggestions was a far-reaching ad campaign to help curb opioid addiction before it begins. During Trump’s health emergency announcement, he called for “really tough, really big, really great advertising,” which many critics quickly likened to Nancy Reagan’s famous “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign.

Regardless, the commission apparently agreed with Trump’s suggestion, commenting that a media blitz would help people with addiction “stop being afraid or ashamed of seeking help when facing their addiction.”

The commission also pushed for expanded drug courts, where non-violent drug offenses are routed to treatment programs with mandatory drug tests and court appearances. Drug courts, however, are currently only offered in less than half of the country, the report said.

The idea sounds good in theory, Dr. Stefan Kertesz told Reuters, but poor in practice. “Drug courts often function as pay to play,” he observed. “Only people who can come up with money can escape a prison sentence.”

The report also suggested that states should be able to easily share information about drug prescriptions with one another. By regularly checking prescription drug info databases, doctors can quickly see if their patients were securing opioids from doctors in other states. Additionally, the commission pushed for naloxone to be available by more emergency responders in order to treat the overdoses they encounter. Stricter prescribing guidelines around opioids are necessary, too, the report said.

Overall, the report contended that both the federal government and private insurers have a responsibility to do a better job covering everything from non-opioid medications to counseling to physical therapy. It also recommended that the Department of Health and Human Services should get rid of reimbursement policies limiting access to addiction medications.

In response to the commission’s report, the White House said they “look forward to reviewing these recommendations as the entire Administration continues to work to lessen drug demand and the opioid crisis.” 

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Paul Fuhr lives in Columbus, Ohio with his family and two cats, Vesper and Dr. No. He's written for AfterParty MagazineThe Literary Review and The Live Oak Review, among others. He's also the host of "Drop the Needle," a podcast about music and addiction recovery. More at paulfuhr.com. You can also find Paul on Linkedin and Twitter.

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