New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will lead a new national opioid commission created Wednesday by an executive order from President Donald Trump that also maps out his administration’s latest strategy to combat the public health crisis.
The fight against the opioid epidemic is “one that’s incredibly important to every family in every corner of this country,” Christie said Wednesday in an interview with The Today Show, adding he and Trump “both care passionately about this issue and we want to save lives.”
“Addiction is a disease, and no life is disposable. We can help people by giving them appropriate treatment,” Christie said.
Trump tweeted late Wednesday that his signed executive order would create a presidential commission designed to combat opioid addiction and the opioid crisis.
According to Trump’s signed order, the commission is designed to:
- Identify existing federal dollars to combat drug addiction, including opioids;
- Assess availability and access to addiction treatment centers and overdose reversal and identify underserved areas;
- Measure the effectiveness of state prescription drug monitoring programs;
- Evaluate public messaging campaigns about prescription and illegal opioids, and identify best practices for drug prevention.
In 90 days, the commission will submit an interim report to Trump with its findings. It will submit a final report by Oct. 1, unless more time is needed, according to the executive order. The commission will dissolve a month later.
On the campaign trail, Trump promised to tackle the nation’s opioid crisis. But in February, the New York Times reported the Trump Administration planned to eliminate the White House Office for National Drug Control Policy, a three-decades-old office that President Ronald Reagan and Congress created to orchestrate the country’s drug policy and strategies. The report concerned public health officials who worried about lost resources in the middle of nationwide opioid epidemic.
The executive order signed Wednesday by Trump asks that office to help the commission carry out some of its tasks. It does not make mention of what will happen to the “drug czar,” a leadership position created by President Ronald Reagan. President Barack Obama’s most recent appointee, Michael Botticelli, promoted expanded access to naloxone and other kinds of treatment, and shepherded a prescription drug monitoring program that is active in all states except Missouri. He also made headlines for being the first person in the position to be openly recovering from addiction.
The national drug control policy office referred questions from the NewsHour to the White House, which did not respond to requests for comment.
In January, Christie promised New Jerseyans that he would devote his final year in office to making headway in the state’s own fight against opioid addiction, the Associated Press reported. This policy work continues efforts he launched in 2011, as detailed by NJ.com.
By the end of 2016, the state had expanded access to naloxone — an opioid antidote that reverses potentially fatal overdoses within minutes — and created a program that uses electronic data to track how often doctors and pharmacists doll out prescription drugs. Christie’s administration also devoted more resources to the state’s drug courts, which allows defendants who face drug charges to choose between treatment or jail time.
Christie attended a White House meeting to discuss strategies to address opioid addiction, intervention and treatment Wednesday morning along with Trump and several members of the administration, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Kelly and Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, among others. The meeting also included some representatives of the law enforcement and health communities, as well as advocates and those recovering from addiction.
“Stopping this epidemic is an issue that every American regardless of political background can and must get behind,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Wednesday, adding that the day’s announcement was the first step in bringing stakeholders together.
Trump’s decision to form the commission is a step in the right direction, says Mary Bassett, who leads the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. In November, she co-signed a letter sent to the Trump transition team by 10 other public health officials from the across the country asking for attention to the issue.
“Opioid overdose deaths are preventable but have claimed too many American lives, and the growing presence of more potent drugs is exacerbating the problem,” she says in a written statement from the department. “This executive order for an opioid commission seems to be an important step toward addressing the opioid epidemic at a national level.”
Preventing further tragedy requires “all hands on deck,” echoed Sen. Claire McCaskill, who earlier in the week launched an investigation into drugmakers who make the nation’s top-five selling prescription opioids.
“Drug overdose deaths, the majority of which are from heroin and prescription opioids, are a national crisis,” McCaskill said in a written statement. “We’ll need the help of Governor Christie, President Trump, and others at all levels of government, from any party affiliation, if we’re going to make progress and save lives.”
The announcement arrives the same day a new report revealed the changing profile of Americans who use and abuse heroin. According to Silvia Martins and researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, heroin use has become more prevalent over the last decade, increasing across all measures for age, race, gender, education, income and marital status — especially among white, uneducated men.
“The nonmedical use of prescription opioids preceding heroin use increased among white individuals, supporting a link between the prescription opioid epidemic and heroin use in this population,” the report said.
Researchers analyzed more than 79,000 respondents who asked about drug use in 2002-2003 and 2012-2013 for the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Their findings were released in JAMA Psychiatry Wednesday.
“Heroin use has become more normative over time,” Martins told the NewsHour. The commission’s task is, in part, to stop that.