W

ASHINGTON — President Trump’s commission on the opioid crisis has missed its first deadline.

The newly created panel met for the first time on June 16, just 11 days before the White House’s ambitious due date for a preliminary report meant to outline federal strategies to curb the epidemic.

An executive order that established the commission had set a 90-day deadline for the completion of that document. The deadline will come and go without a report being filed, and a commission teleconference originally scheduled for Monday evening has been rescheduled for July 17.

advertisement

“It’s been pushed back for a couple of weeks,” commission member Bertha Madras, a researcher at Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital who studies the biology of addiction, told STAT. “We need more time because it’s a massive task.”

Madras said the group has been working diligently on its report, compiling a list of federal resources and programs available to help stem the epidemic. The panel was still crafting its recommendations, she said, but overall the commission’s work was going very well.

“Right now, we’re going to have more recommendations than anyone anticipated,” she said.

Madras was named to the commission just last month, along with its chair, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, and Govs. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Roy Cooper of North Carolina. The fifth member, former Rhode Island congressman Patrick Kennedy, is a treatment advocate who has spoken openly about his own struggle with drug abuse.

“It seemed to have been put together on a fairly brief turnaround,” said Dr. Joe Parks, the medical director of the National Council for Behavioral Health, of the first meeting, during which he delivered a brief presentation. “I was left with the impression that we were part of an initial broad information-gathering — I was given very broad opportunity to give whatever input I pleased.”

Outside experts have been largely impressed by the commission and its direction, if not the pace of work.

“I had a good hour with Governor Christie, and I have to say he was extremely impressive, extremely knowledgeable,” said Gary Mendell, who as the CEO of the addiction treatment advocacy group Shatterproof was invited to testify before the commission at its first meeting. “He seemed very focused on wanting to do the right thing.”

But Mendell and others who appeared at the first hearing were adamant that the pending health care legislation would be a major setback for the recovery community if it became law.

At the same time, Mendell said, while those invited to testify implored the White House not to pursue legislation that could hamper treatment access, they recognized that Christie’s commission is a non-legislative body with little influence over Republicans on the Hill.

Despite forceful rhetoric on the issue from Trump while on the campaign trail, the White House has struggled to avoid contradictions between the commission’s work and its own agenda.

Newsletters

Sign up for our Morning Rounds newsletter

Please enter a valid email address.

In April, Trump celebrated the House’s passage of a bill that detractors say would sharply reduce access to addiction treatment in two ways: a roughly $800 billion cut in planned Medicaid spending over the coming decade, and deregulation that could allow insurers in some states not to cover some basic health services, including addiction treatment.

In May, a leaked memo suggested the Trump administration would seek to effectively eliminate the White House’s drug control policy office, reducing its funding from $388 million to $24 million. The administration backtracked on the cuts following bipartisan outrage.

And on Monday, top Trump lieutenant Kellyanne Conway found herself facing demands for an apology after she suggested the two requisite tools for ending the crisis were funding and “a four-letter word called will.”

When asked about the deadline, the White House forwarded questions to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which forwarded questions to Christie’s office, which did not respond to requests for comment.

The commission has not changed its goal of submitting a final report to Trump by Oct. 1.

Andrew Joseph contributed reporting.

An earlier version of this story stated that Trump’s draft budget envisioned effectively eliminating the White House’s drug control policy office. The proposal was made in a memo that was leaked, before the budget proposal was released.

Leave a Comment

Please enter your name.
Please enter a comment.

  • Like Red Lawhern, I also emailed the Opioid Commission at: Commission@ondcp.eop.gov I actually received a form letter back, so we at least know they are responding. We need to get them to actually read what we are sending them, so everyone needs to email them also with the message that we need either a Pain Management Physician or Chronic Pain Patient on the commission to represent us. Continuing to fight this battle without our input will result in no resolution and the ongoing suffering & death of people with diseases & injuries that must live in pain 24/7 without the medication we need.

  • INCONVENIENT TRUTHS FROM A CHRONIC-PAIN SUFFERER:
    The lives of CHRONIC-PAIN SUFFERERS and their families are as important as the lives of DRUG ABUSERS and their families. Chronic-pain sufferers and drug abusers are NOT natural adversaries, UNLESS OUR OWN GOVERNMENT PITS US AGAINST EACH OTHER THROUGH A MISLEADING CAMPAIGN CHARACTERIZED AS AN “OPIOID-ADDICTION EPIDEMIC”.
    I am a chronic-pain sufferer, due to fibromyalgia. I have struggled to live with that condition since 1992. Despite the devastating effect of a painful disease, I have managed to live a relatively normal life ONLY DUE TO ACCESS TO PRESCRIPTION OPIOID DRUGS. I WAS NOT, AND AM NOT, A DRUG ABUSER!!! Early on, I was advised by my physician to ALWAYS record the time and dosage of opioids that I used. I KEPT RECORDS OF THOSE DOSES FOR OVER 22 YEARS!!! I had little calendar books full of those records, which, again, I KEPT FOR OVER 22 YEARS!!! I never showed signs of addiction or even tolerance for the opioid drug I used. I had inexpensive drug tests every six months, and no damage to my vital organs or physiological systems was caused by opioids.
    I spent most of my time in bed for about two years during the worst of the onslaught of fibromyalgia. Of course, the random bad luck of contracting that disease robbed me of most of my pervious life. My only child was a toddler at the time I was diagnosed. When my daughter was in 1st grade, her class was given an assignment to draw pictures of their mothers as a Mother’s Day gift. My daughter drew a picture of me in bed, because that image occupied so much of her young years. It was a Mother’s Day gift I will never forget, and it was heartbreaking. Nevertheless, despite all those lost years, I was able to eventually pull myself out of bed and function more normally, although never the same as before . I DID NOT END UP WITH AN HORRIFIC DISEASE BECAUSE OF CHOICES I MADE. NOR DID I BECOME A DRUG ABUSER SIMPLY BECAUSE I USE PRESCRIPTION OPIOIDS. DRUG ABUSERS MAKE CHOICES that cause them to become addicts. I made very different choices, which kept me from becoming an addict.
    I have used prescription opioids since 1994 as the foundation of a wellness system which I worked out through my own research, trial and error, and the supervision and encouragement from my own personal physicians; all of those factors were combined with enormous grit, determination, and discipline, on my part. Since I had always been a “health nut,” I was wary of ANY drugs. MY PERSONAL DECISION to use opioids was not one entered into lightly. Perhaps because I’m from Los Angeles, a major world urban center, I was fortunate to accidentally stumble across world-class medical care. The PERSONAL relationships between me and the handful of physicians I consulted were EXTREMELY VALUABLE.
    Of course, a relationship between physician and patient can NEVER be replaced by the distant and uninvited interference of government entities, such as your Commission, Governor Christie, a commission which is developing policy that dramatically harms RESPONSIBLE chronic-pain sufferers . We and our physicians are constantly BEING FALSELY ACCUSED AS THE SOURCE FOR ILLEGAL DRUG USE or even the drugs which are used by abusers.
    One of my degrees is in government, so I believe there is a role for government, at some level, in protecting consumers from fraud and abuse. However, your vaguely defined and hastily formed commission, Governor Christie, has omitted a HUGE group of stakeholders in your RIGID and NARROWLY DEFINED operation which is proceeding like a freight train, on fire, heading down a mountain. You and your cohorts have omitted a group that, again, is AT LEAST AS IMPORTANT AS DRUG ABUSERS; that is, the huge population of chronic-pain sufferers in the U.S. Your commission has omitted the overwhelming chorus of our voices in any RESPONSIBE development of your policies and processes. THERE ARE MANY, MANY OF US, AND WE WILL NOT FORGET THE POLITICIANS WHO PERPETRATED THIS MISJUSTICE AGAINST US.
    The “OPIOID ADDICTION EPIDEMIC,” currently being PROMULGATED BY OUR OWN GOVERNMENT is , at best, misleading, and, possibly, it is a lie that is being conveniently and selfishly promoted by do-gooders who have stepped over a critical line. Although my husband and I have been supporters of most of President Trump’s decisions since he began his primary campaign, our President is just wrong about the method he is using to carry out yet another doomed “War on Drugs” in the U.S. I fear that you, Governor Christie, and many others, will become part of a knee-jerk reaction toa proliferation of drug abuse which may have causes that lie in lack of employment and an amount of accumulated person wealth which could allow for normal family functioning. I believe that many of you involved in promoting the opioid-addiction epidemic have moved from compassionate intentions to selfishly mercenary goals. Currently, I am convinced that your commission is pursuing goals which will promote individual political careers and entrepreneurial physicians who compose the current health-care INDUSTRY in the U.S.
    If I suffer from any of the errant activities related to the misleading “Opioid Addiction Epidemic,” I assure you, and all those involved, that I WILL NEVER FORGET the abuse I suffered. I will become a one-issue voter to maintain access to opioid drugs, and I will NEVER vote for any politician or any initiative which lessens that access for me.

  • It’s hard to say whether this delay in the President’s Commission preliminary report is a good thing or not. Certainly the task of laying out a unified program plan for abating opioid addiction is not a trivial task. But as I wrote to the commission at their email gateway (commission@ondcp.eop.gov) their first working meeting utterly excluded any input from the people most likely to be adversely affected by further restrictive policies on opioid medications. By this I meant chronic pain patients and their doctors.

    Although several of the groups which addressed the Commission in its first working meeting were clearly unwilling to even consider how misdirected the War on Drugs has been, it is absolutely crystal clear that people in pain and their doctors did not cause the so-called “epidemic” of opioid-related deaths. And cutting off people who have been maintained stably for many years on opioids will succeed only in plunging them into agony, disability and in some cases DEATH.

    As noted by one of the speakers to the Commission, it is well known that 90% of addicts are first exposed to drugs and other intoxicants in their teens. This occurs at a time when only a tiny minority have ever been prescribed an opioid for pain. The real problem in this population is street drugs like heroin, now frequently laced with fentanyl, plus drugs diverted from legitimate use by theft or carelessness on the part of family members.

    It is TIME TO STOP THE WAR AGAINST PAIN PATIENTS! And it is time for the President’s Commission to get its collective head out of a dark place and realize that there are no cheap or simple solutions for hopelessness — which is ultimately the primary cause of drug addiction.

Sign up for our Morning Rounds newsletter

Your daily dose of news in health and medicine.

X