The White House panel examining the nation's opioid epidemic has asked President Trump to declare a national public health emergency to combat the escalating drug epidemic ravaging America.
"Our citizens are dying. We must act boldly to stop it," the commission, chaired by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, said in an interim report Monday. "The first and most urgent recommendation of this Commission is direct and completely within your control. Declare a national emergency."
In the report, the commission paints a dire picture of the ongoing crisis:
“With approximately 142 Americans dying every day, America is enduring a death toll equal to September 11th every three weeks. After September 11th, our President and our nation banded together to use every tool at our disposal to prevent any further American deaths. Your declaration would empower your cabinet to take bold steps and would force Congress to focus on funding and empowering the Executive Branch even further to deal with this loss of life. It would also awaken every American to this simple fact: if this scourge has not found you or your family yet, without bold action by everyone, it soon will.”
The interim report includes the following recommendations:
- Grant waiver approvals in all 50 states to get rid of treatment barriers
- Mandate education initiatives with the help of medical and dental schools
- Establish and fund an initiative that would better access to medication-assisted treatment
- Provide model legislation for states to allow naloxone dispensing via standing orders
- Prioritize funding to Customs and Border Protection, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency to develop fentanyl detection sensors
In his inaugural address, President Trump spoke of “drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential,” promising that “this American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” Trump established the opioid commission to study the issue in March, with a mandate to “study ways to combat and treat the scourge of drug abuse, addiction, and the opioid crisis.”
There has been criticism that not much has happened since the inauguration while it took the commission four months just to study the problem and come up with an interim report. Several states, including Florida and Arizona, have already declared public health emergencies over the opioid epidemic.
A new survey released by the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA)—also published on Monday—suggests that close to 92 million people in the United States used opioid pain relievers like OxyContin or Vicodin in 2015. According to NIDA,
“More than one third of adults nationwide reported prescription opioid use in 2015, with substantial numbers reporting misuse and use disorders, according to a report compiled to estimate the prevalence of, and explore the motivations for, opioid use and misuse. The data showed that pain relief was most commonly cited as the reason for the misuse of opioids and that close to half of those who misused obtained them free from a family member or friend.”
NIDA hopes the research will “help inform strategies to address prescription opioid misuse and overdose deaths, as well as other related health and social problems.”
The White House commission's final report is due in October.