Will Christie or Bondi Be Next Attorney General?

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

PNN readers cheered last week when Attorney General Jeff Sessions was fired by President Donald Trump. Sessions angered many in the pain community when he called for further cuts in opioid production and said pain patients should “tough it out” by taking aspirin.  

“The good news is Jeff Sessions (was) forced to resign,” wrote Carole Attisano. “Finally getting a small bit of Karma you so well deserved,”

“Now let’s hope that we get somebody with some type of human conscience for those who suffer with pain,” wrote another PNN reader.

As the saying goes… be careful what you wish for.

According to CBS News, two of the early front runners to be nominated as the next Attorney General are former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. Like Sessions, both have been longtime critics of opioid prescribing and served last year on President Trump’s opioid commission.

CHRIS CHRISTIE

CHRIS CHRISTIE

Christie certainly has experience in law enforcement. He was a federal prosecutor and U.S. Attorney in New Jersey from 2002 to 2008.

As governor, Christie signed legislation that made New Jersey one of the first states to limit the supply of opioids for short-term, acute pain. He also bitterly opposed efforts to expand the use of medical marijuana, calling cannabis activists “crazy liberals” willing to “poison our kids” for marijuana tax revenue.   

The final report from the president’s opioid commission, which Christie chaired, took a law-and-order approach to the opioid crisis, calling for “involuntary changes” in opioid prescribing.

“This crisis can be fought with effective medical education, voluntary or involuntary changes in prescribing practices, and a strong regulatory and enforcement environment,” the commission said.

In its five public hearings, the commission heard testimony from addiction treatment activists and several people who lost loved ones to opioid overdoses. But the panel never asked for or received testimony from pain sufferers, patient advocates or pain management physicians.

Pam Bondi did not have a prominent role on the opioid commission and only joined the panel in its final weeks. Her second and last term as Florida’s Attorney General ends in January. “She has not yet made a decision as to what she will do next,” a spokesman told CNN.

Bondi has a good relationship with President Trump and was once rumored to be the next head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy — also known as the nation’s “drug czar.”

Bondi played a prominent in shutting down Florida’s pill mills, but critics say she has been slow to acknowledge that the opioid crisis has shifted away from prescription painkillers to heroin and illicit fentanyl.

“The problem is Bondi isn't doing enough about the heroin epidemic,” the Miami Sun Sentinel said in a 2017 editorial. “Considering that Bondi was once touted as a potential Trump drug czar — and infamously failed to investigate Trump University after receiving a major donation from Trump — it's no surprise that she was named to the commission. But she's still living off her reputation from the pill mill crack down.”

PAM BONDI

PAM BONDI

Christie also has a good relationship with the President Trump, but has urged that there be no interference with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation – a potential stumbling block with the president. Like Sessions, Christie could also face calls to recuse himself from the investigation because he chaired Trump’s transition team.

According to CNN, other potential contenders for Attorney General are Solicitor General Noel Francisco, Rep. John Ratcliffe, (R) Texas, former Judge John Michael Luttig, Judge Edith Jones, former Judge Janice Rogers Brown, retiring Rep. Trey Gowdy, (R) South Carolina, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R) South Carolina.

Matthew Whitaker, the current acting Attorney General, can serve in that temporary position for 210 days under federal law.

Trump Opioid Commission Delays Final Report

By Pat Anson, Editor

The chairman of President Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis has asked for – and apparently been granted – a one month delay in releasing the panel’s final report.

In a letter posted on the White House website, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said the commission’s “research and policy development are still in progress,” and that he was extending the deadline from October 1 to November 1.

Christie said the opioid commission would hold its third public hearing September 27 at the White House. A notice published in the Federal Register indicates the meeting will focus on pain management and the diversion of opioid pain medication.

“The meeting will consist of statements to the Commission from invited government, nonprofit, and business organizations regarding Innovative Pain Management and Prevention Measures for Diversion followed by discussion of the issues raised,” the statement says. No list of attendees is included.

Trump Opioid commission.png

Christie’s letter also says the opioid commission will visit an Ohio medical center to learn about “innovative pain management strategies” and will meet in New Jersey with representatives of the pharmaceutical industry “to talk about partnership opportunities with the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration.”

Until now the focus of the opioid commission has been on treating opioid addiction. An interim report released in July recommends increased access to addiction treatment, mandatory education for prescribers on the risks and benefits of opioid medication, and increased efforts to detect and stop the flow of illicit fentanyl into the country. There are no specific recommendations aimed at reducing access to prescription opioids or providing different forms of pain management.

Bondi Joins Commission

Another possible sign of a shift in the commission’s direction is the recent appointment of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to the panel. Bondi is now listed as member of the commission on the White House website,  although there has been no official announcement by the Trump administration. She is the fifth politician appointed to the six member panel.

Bondi played a prominent in shutting down on Florida’s pill mills several years ago, but critics say she has been slow to acknowledge that the opioid crisis has shifted away from prescription painkillers to street drugs like heroin and illicit fentanyl. Many pain patients in Florida still have trouble finding pharmacies willing to fill their opioid prescriptions.

Bondi recently joined other state attorneys general in asking pharmaceutical companies for information about their marketing, production and distribution of opioids.

“Florida citizens continue to become addicted to opioids and die daily -- meanwhile, prescription drug manufacturers, distributors and the medical profession all point fingers at each other as the cause of this national crisis,” Bondi said in a statement. “This far-reaching multistate investigation is designed to get the answers we need as quickly as possible. The industry must do the right thing. If they do not, we are prepared to litigate.”

Bondi also recently joined the National Association of Attorneys General in asking the insurance industry to do more to reduce opioid prescriptions and combat opioid abuse.

“Insurance companies can play an important role in reducing opioid prescriptions and making it easier for patients to access other forms of pain management treatment. Indeed, simply asking providers to consider providing alternative treatments is impractical in the absence of a supporting incentive structure,” the attorneys general said in a letter to an insurance industry trade group.

“Insurance companies thus are in a position to make a very positive impact in the way that providers treat patients with chronic pain.”

In addition to Bondi and Christie, opioid commission members include Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, Bertha Madras, PhD, a professor of psychobiology at Harvard Medical School, and Patrick Kennedy, a former Rhode Island congressman.

The Trump administration has still not officially declared that the opioid crisis is a national emergency – something the President said he would do in August.  

Pam Bondi to Join Trump Opioid Commission

By Pat Anson, Editor

Less than three weeks before its final report is due, President Trump’s opioid commission is getting a new member --   Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Bondi is a longtime supporter of the president, served as a member of his transition team, and was once rumored to be the next head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. There was speculation back in March that Bondi would be named to the opioid commission, but it was not until last week that the White House confirmed it was President Trump's "intent to appoint" Bondi to the panel, which currently has five members.

Curiously, Bondi’s office blamed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the chair of the opioid commission, for the six month delay in getting her on board. Both Bondi and Christie are lame ducks serving out their final months in elected office.

“The President always intended for the Attorney General to be on the Commission – however, Governor Christie choose (sic) to begin the Commission with only himself and four others,” Whitney Ray, Bondi’s spokesman, said in an email.

“The announcement (of Bondi's appointment) is protocol before the Executive Order is signed next week. The Attorney General will continue to work with President Trump, General Kelly, Kellyanne Conway and other leaders to combat the national opioid epidemic.“

Bondi's spokesman also reportedly said that the October 1 deadline for the commission to release its final report would be extended. No such announcement has been made and the White House website still doesn’t list Bondi as a commission member.

FLORIDA ATTORNEY GENERAL PAM BONDI

FLORIDA ATTORNEY GENERAL PAM BONDI

The Trump administration has also yet to issue an official declaration that the opioid crisis is a national emergency – something the President said he would do over a month ago.  

"The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I am saying, officially right now, it is an emergency. It's a national emergency. We're going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis,” Trump said on August 10.

Bondi played a prominent in shutting down Florida’s pill mills several years ago, but critics say she has been slow to acknowledge that the opioid crisis has shifted away from prescription painkillers to heroin and illicit fentanyl.

“The problem is Bondi isn't doing enough about the heroin epidemic,” the Miami Sun Sentinel said in an editorial.  “Considering that Bondi was once touted as a potential Trump drug czar — and infamously failed to investigate Trump University after receiving a major donation from Trump — it's no surprise that she was named to the commission. But she's still living off her reputation from the pill mill crack down.

“In fact, if you Google Bondi and heroin, by far the most you'll read about is when she slammed a drug dealer for stamping Trump's name on a batch of heroin. You won't find any solutions to our crisis.”

In a recent interview with WMBB-TV, Bondi warned that drug dealers were putting heroin and illicit fentanyl into counterfeit medications.

"It's a national epidemic and it truly affects everyone, and parents need to really warn their kids, their teens, adults need to know, never take a pill from someone you don't know, even if they say it is a Tylenol, an Advil or an aspirin. Don't take anything from someone who you don't know," said Bondi.

The initial focus of Trump's opioid commission has been on educating, preventing and treating opioid addiction. An interim report released by the commission in July recommends increased access to addiction treatment, mandatory education for prescribers on the risks and benefits of opioids, and increased efforts to detect and stop the flow of illicit fentanyl into the country.

There are no specific recommendations aimed at reducing access to prescription opioids, although they could be added to the commission’s final report.

In addition to Gov. Christie, commission members include Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, Bertha Madras, PhD, a professor of psychobiology at Harvard Medical School, and Patrick Kennedy, a former Rhode Island congressman. No pain patients, pain management experts or practicing physicians were appointed to the panel.