Trump Opioid Commission Calls for National Emergency

By Pat Anson, Editor

A White House commission on combating drug addiction and the opioid crisis has recommended that President Trump declare a national emergency to speed up federal efforts to combat the overdose epidemic, which killed over 47,000 Americans in 2015.

“If this scourge has not found you or your family yet, without bold action by everyone, it soon will. You, Mr. President, are the only person who can bring this type of intensity to the emergency and we believe you have the will to do so and to do so immediately,” the commission wrote in an interim report to the president.

The 10-page report was delayed by over a month, which New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie attributed to over 8,000 public comments the commission received after its first meeting in June. Christie, who chairs the commission, said the panel wanted to carefully review each comment.

In addition to declaring a national emergency, the commission recommended a variety of ways to increase access to addiction treatment, mandate prescriber education about the risks and benefits of opioids, and prioritize ways to detect and stop the flow of illicit fentanyl into the country.

There were no specific recommendations aimed at reducing access to prescription opioids, although they could be added to the commission’s final report, which is due in October.

“We urge the NIH (National Institutes of Health) to begin to work immediately with the pharmaceutical industry in two areas: development of additional MAT (medication assisted treatment)... and the development of new, non-opioid pain relievers, based on research to clarify the biology of pain,” Christie said. “The nation needs more options that are not addictive.  And we need more treatment for those who are addicted.”

“I think we also have to be cognizant that the advent of new psychoactive substances such as fentanyl analogs and heroin is certainly replacing the death rate due to prescription opioids. That is going to continue until we have a handle on the supply side of the issue,” said commission member Bertha Madras, PhD, a professor of psychobiology at Harvard Medical School.

“If we do not stop the pipeline into substance use, into addiction, into problematic use, into the entire scenario of poly-substance use, we are really not going to get a good handle on this.”     

Other measures recommended by the commission:

  • Grant waivers to states to eliminate barriers to mental health and addiction treatment
  • Increase availability of naloxone as an emergency treatment for opioid overdoses
  • Amend the Controlled Substance Act to require additional training in pain management for all prescribers
  • Prioritize funding to Homeland Security, FBI and DEA to quickly develop fentanyl detection sensors
  • Stop the flow of synthetic opioids through U.S. Postal Service
  • Enhance the sharing of data between prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs)

No estimate was provided on the cost of any of these measures.

Gov. Christie also spoke about eliminating pain levels as a “satisfaction criteria” for healthcare providers being evaluated and reimbursed for federal programs like Medicare.

“We believe that this very well may have proven to be a driver for the incredible amount of prescribing of opioids in this country. In 2015, we prescribed enough opioids to keep every adult in America fully medicated for three weeks. It’s an outrage. And we want to see if this need for pain satisfaction levels, which is part of the criteria for reimbursement, is part of the driver for this problem,” Christie said.  

Last year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) caved into pressure from politicians and anti-opioid activists by dropping all questions related to pain in patient satisfaction surveys in hospitals.  CMS agreed to make the change even though there was no evidence that the surveys contributed to excess opioid prescribing