By David Dayen
The Intercept (8/1/17)
THE PRESIDENT’S COMMISSION on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis called on President Trump Monday [7/31] to declare a public health emergency over the epidemic of overdose deaths nationwide. This urgency came in an interim report by the commission that was itself more than a month late.
Per Trump’s executive order establishing the commission, interim recommendations were due June 27, with a final report October 1. The bipartisan commission, led by Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, delayed the report twice before finally issuing it July 31. On a conference call, Christie cited 8,000 public comments as the “driver behind us delaying the report … so we could take [them] into account.”
Despite the high profile of the commission, overall the Trump administration has done nothing of substance on the opioid crisis, failing to fill key appointments and delivering mostly talk.
A declaration of emergency would allow the secretary of health and human services to place affected populations on Medicare insurance and reduce the price of necessary prescription drugs, and would allow waivers of several regulatory measures around patient privacy and reporting requirements.
Declaring an emergency would also trigger access to the Public Health Emergency Fund to make grants, sign contracts, and support investigations into prevention and treatment. Unfortunately, as of last year that fund held just $57,000. Congress would need to appropriate more money; the commission report states that a declaration of emergency “would force Congress to focus on funding.”
Joshua Sharfstein, associate dean for public health practice and training at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, believes such a declaration would be useful. “There are some mechanisms by which an emergency declaration could lead to a more rapid expansion of access to effective treatment,” he told The Intercept. “That could certainly save lives.”
It’s unclear whether the Trump administration will accept the recommendations, however, or continue to stall on fighting opioid abuse.
On July 18, Senate Democrats condemned the delay in federal action amid a crisis that claimed over 33,000 lives last year. Drug overdoses now serve as the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. On the Monday conference call, Commission Chair Christie described the death toll as the size of “a September 11 every three weeks.” …
(Commoner Call cartoon by Mark L. Taylor, 2017. Open source and free to use with link to www.thecommonercall.org )