White House drug commission calls for Trump to declare a national drug emergency
Commission’s strategy lacks clear funding goals
What’s needed is a bold $100 billion plan to fight the opioid epidemic
The White House opioid commission’s call in July for President Trump to declare a “national health emergency” to fight the opioid epidemic is an important step forward. So too are the forward-thinking policy guidelines issued by the commission, which I addressed in June. Using stark language, the commission’s interim report urged the President and Congress to focus on funding and launching initiatives to combat a drug “scourge” that will eventually affect every American, the report warned.
Many of the commission’s proposals go to the heart of the crisis, and target policy areas important to the Rosenthal Center. These range from increasing treatment capacity – especially residential treatment – through Medicaid; expanding Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT); providing overdose reversal drugs to all law enforcement; and disrupting the flow of the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl, which the commission calls “the next grave challenge on the opioid front.”
While moving in the right direction, the report does not go far enough. It failed to commit a specific amount of money to the national emergency at a time when 142 Americans die every day from drug overdoses. And it does not address a number of specific policy ideas that are key to successfully confronting this epidemic.
As we go to press, it’s uncertain whether President Trump will declare a health emergency and if he will support a large funding commitment. After all, as the legislative showdown over healthcare reform recently demonstrated, President Trump and the GOP-led Congress were willing to gut Medicaid and scale back essential benefits that would have devastated drug treatment programs.
With this in mind, the Rosenthal Center calls for bipartisan leadership and a comprehensive $100 billion national action program that expands on the commission’s findings and sets more specific goals and explicit policy language as follows:
Immediately allocate $100 billion to the states. This will incentivize the states to match funding to expand existing programs and design and build up new initiatives that directly address the needs of their communities.
Ensure that behavioral therapy is an essential component of medication- assisted treatment (MAT). While the commission calls for expanding MAT, it does not specifically mention the importance of behavioral therapy and counseling. Under federal SAMHSA guidelines, MAT must include both medication and therapy as a way to help addicts reorder their lives and provide them with self-awareness and a new social network for sustained recovery.
Expand access to long-term residential treatment. With resources strained by the fast moving epidemic, few states today have sufficient capacity to provide long-term treatment for the skyrocketing addict population. The commission is right to prioritize this goal, as long-term treatment can help break the cycle of serial short-term admissions that often result in subsequent relapse and in many cases, death.
Renewed focus on specific addict populations, including vulnerable adolescents. The commission did not specifically mention adolescents, even though the Surgeon General estimates that one million adolescents (12 to 17) are in need of drug treatment but routinely fail to receive it. Teen admissions to drug programs plummeted by almost 50 percent between 2004 and 2014 to just over 78,000, due in part to the closing of dedicated facilities. We must ensure that adolescents who are prey to opioid addiction receive treatment at an early stage of their drug misuse to prevent a new generation of young adult opioid addicts tomorrow.
Extend the Continuum of Care service model. The commission correctly proposed ensuring a continuum of care into the criminal justice system, noting that treatment during and after incarceration works to reduce recidivism and lowers mortality risk. We should also enlarge the model to include offsite services to homeless shelters, schools and addicts’ homes.