White House Addiction Panel Chaired by Christie Needs More Time to Draft Report

Lilo H. Stainton | July 17, 2017 | Health Care
Deadline to deliver draft pushed back a second time, to July 31; national teleconference scheduled

Credit: Governor's Office/Tim Larsen
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Members of the White House panel tasked with combatting the opioid crisis need more time to review the extensive public testimony and more than 8,000 comments submitted as part of their work to draft a report on federal programs to prevent and treat drug addiction.

Brian Murray, the press secretary for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the commission’s chair, said the group’s first meeting in mid-June was a “great success” and that resulted in a significant volume of responses from scores of individuals, nine leading nonprofits involved with addiction issues, and more than 50 organizations working in the field.

The teleconference initially scheduled for today — Monday, July 17 — to review the initial version of this interim report was pushed back until July 31 to allow members another two weeks to sift through these materials and produce their draft. The final version is due in September.

Listening in

Members of the public can listen to the 4 p.m. session on July 31 by calling (800) 260-0718 (Access Code 426289) five minutes before the start time, according to the notice posted last week on the Federal Register website.

“The extensions to submit the interim report were made to ensure adequate time to fully review the extensive public comments received,” Murray said Friday.

This is the second time the release of the draft report has been delayed. The first deadline set was June 27 — just 10 days after the panel members first met — but it was rescheduled for July 17 a few days before their findings were due.

No reason was given publicly at the time for the change, and some critics have suggested the delays reflect the lack of commitment by President Donald Trump to addressing a disease experts have termed a national epidemic. He has also been criticized for plans to scale back federal funding for Medicaid, which pays for many patients to receive drug-use disorder treatment.

The party platform

Trump made opioid addiction a primary platform in his 2016 presidential campaign and spoke frequently of the issue when campaigning in states ravaged by the disease, like New Hampshire.

In March Trump signed an executive order creating an advisory panel, the President’s Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, to review existing federal programs designed to prevent and treat addiction, assess their efficacy, and make recommendations to the president on next steps. The group is also charged with assessing the current access to and availability of treatment and prevention programs, especially in underserved communities.

To lead the panel, the president tapped Christie, a fellow Republican and early supporter who has championed anti-addiction issues in recent years; other members include Democrats Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina and former Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, who now lives on the Jersey Shore.

“I think the biggest goal of this commission is to bring this up out of the shadows and into the light,” Christie said during the first meeting, which included input from researchers, treatment providers, addicts, and other stakeholders. “I can tell you the president cares deeply about this issue,” he added, “he understands it well and personally.”

Specifically, the panel is tasked with identifying the federal programs that address the opioid crisis; assess the availability and accessibility of addiction programs and opiate-reversal options across the country and identify areas that are underserved; identify and report on best practices for prevention, including healthcare provider education and evaluation of prescription practices and state-registry programs; review the literature on educational materials for youth; identify and evaluate existing federal programs to prevent and treat addiction; and make recommendations on all of this to the president.

The panel functions under the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which provides staff and support, and must complete its work by October, unless it is given an extension by the president in advance.