Trump's Opioid Crisis Commission Misses First Deadline

By Paul Gaita 06/30/17

The Senate Republicans' attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act played a major role in the group's missed deadline.

Govs. Chris Christie and Roy Cooper
Govs. Chris Christie and Roy Cooper at the Opioid Commission meeting Photo via YouTube

The abbreviated schedule imposed by President Donald Trump upon his Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis appears to have impacted its ability to meet its first deadline.

After convening for the first time on June 16, the five-person panel, chaired by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, missed Trump's July 27 to deliver a preliminary report outlining their strategies to fight the opioid epidemic in the United States. While commission member Bertha Madras said that work was moving forward on the report, the missed deadline seemed to indicate that the group was trying to contend with the shadow cast by Senate Republicans' attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would significantly impact Medicaid and in turn, addiction and mental health care.

At its first meeting, the commission received forceful testimony opposing such measures by health and addiction specialists, who advocated for long-term care as the only solution to the mounting overdose toll.

President Trump issued an executive order on March 29, 2017 that requested the Commission to produce the report that detailed its interim recommendations on how to contend with the opioid crisis within 90 days, with a final report and recommendations slated for October 1, 2017.

After enlisting Christie, Madras, Governors Charlie Baker and Roy Cooper of Massachusetts and North Carolina, respectively, as well as former Rhode Island congressman Patrick Kennedy – a treatment advocate and recovering addict – the committee conducted its first meeting just 11 days before the initial report's due date. Experts who attended that first meeting were impressed by the commission members and its focus, but also noted that the time frame for action was extremely brief.

"It seems to have been put together on a fairly brief turnaround," said Dr. Joe Parks, medical director of the National Council for Behavioral Health, who gave a presentation at the June 16 meeting. Parks praised the degree of input afforded to speakers and in particular, Governor Christie's commitment to the commission's focus. "I have to say he was extremely knowledgeable, [and] seemed focused on wanting to the right thing," said Parks.

But the Senate legislation's repeal efforts loomed large at the meeting. Governor Cooper himself noted the external pressure: "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," he said. "If we make it harder and more expensive for people to get health care coverage, it's going to make this crisis worse."

The status of the commission's report is currently in flux, according to Madras. "It's been pushed back for a couple of weeks," she explained. "We need more time because it's a massive task." However, she added that the work completed so far will be expansive. "Right now, we're going to have more recommendations than anyone anticipated," she said. The October 1 deadline for the final report appears to remain intact.

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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.