Commission urges Trump to declare opioid crisis a national emergency

The White House opioid commission led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie released an interim report this week that calls on President Trump to officially declare the opioid crisis a national emergency.

“We have 142 people a day in this country dying of drug overdose. That means every three weeks we have a loss equal to the loss we had on 9/11,” Christie said in a press conference on Wednesday. “This is a national emergency.”

The President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis claims that executive action would make the epidemic a top priority and allow the Cabinet to take “bold steps” toward combating drug abuse. Such a step could enhance the administration’s ability to make grants and conduct investigations.

Americans consume more opioids than any other country, the commission said.

Citing a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report that said four out of every five new heroin users began with prescription opioid abuse, the commission described the nation’s health care system as the root of the crisis.

A set of recommendations was presented to the president, including improved prescription tracking; increased treatment and education on substance use; and a call to ensure law enforcement always carry the counter-overdose drug naloxone.

Given the recent spike in overdoses, a study released last week by STAT warned that opioids could kill nearly 500,000 Americans in the next decade if this issue is neglected. But according to Richard Baum, acting White House drug czar, the White House already is pursuing some of the recommendations to protect against abuse.

"Addressing the opioid epidemic is a top priority for the President and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy,” Baum said in a statement. “The good news is that the Administration is already working on several of these recommendations, including improving our abilities to detect fentanyl, increasing access to medication-assisted treatment, and looking at ways to improve prescriber education. The President and I both appreciate the Commission's hard work on this interim report and are eagerly awaiting the final report."

The Trump administration is taking action on other fronts. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Wednesday the formation of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit. The pilot program will be implemented in 12 districts across the nation to focus on preventing opioid-related health care fraud and pill mill schemes.

Dr. David Goodfriend, director of the Loudoun County Health Department in Virginia, said virtually anyone in the country could fall victim to substance abuse. Loudoun County, one of the richest counties in the nation, has seen a rise in the “wide variety” of people struggling with opioid abuse in recent years, he said.

“Several years ago we saw more people getting into trouble with [opioids], and ending up in the emergency room and dying,” Goodfriend told Fox News.

Virginia declared opioid addiction a public health emergency last year.

While the commission pushes for additional action, the Trump administration is facing skepticism from Democrats given his attempts – unsuccessful to date – to repeal ObamaCare, though some of the congressional proposals included money to fight opioid abuse.

“Trump promised he’d come to the aid of communities ravaged by the opioid epidemic, but so far he’s done nothing for them,” DNC spokesperson Daniel Wessel said. “In fact, Trump’s budget proposal and the Medicaid cuts he supported as part of healthcare repeal would both make this crisis even worse.”