“We know this is a crisis, families in this country know this is a crisis, the president of the United States knows this is a crisis,” Governor Chris Christie said on an afternoon conference call with media and the general public interested in the commission’s findings.
The commission, comprised of Christie, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, former congressman Patrick Kennedy and Harvard psychobiology professor Bertha Madras, was created by an executive order in March in order to find ways for the federal government to craft strategies to combat the epidemic. The preliminary report, released on Monday arrived a month after the initial set due date.
Part of the newly announced strategy, as described in an interim report, is to empower every law enforcement officer in the United States to be equipped with Naloxone, often sold as Narcan, which is used to block the effects of opioids particularly in instances of overdoses.
“Naloxone is a lifesaver that rapidly reverses opioid overdose,” the report reads. “It is the first line of defense in many parts of our country; if we lose someone to overdose we obviously have no chance to treat them and return them to a productive life. We urge you to mandate, with federal assistance, that naloxone be in the hands of every law enforcement officer in the United States.”
It goes on to say that a declaration of national emergency would allow Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to negotiate a cheaper price for the drug for government use. The report does not get into funding specifics for these initiatives.
The opioid epidemic has become an issue of extreme national concern, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimating at the end of 2016 that some 91 Americans died of drug overdoses every day. The CDC has recommended Naloxone be administered by emergency medical services to reduce drug overdoses and save lives in the process.
The worsening crisis has made the search for a federal solution all the more urgent and the commission’s work that much more important.
Following this initial set of policy recommendations, the commission said that they will have a final report in October. It is up to the administration as to whether they would pursue their strategies and to set a timeline for doing so.
The specific policy prescription of increasing access to Naloxone is not a new recommendation though. In fact, it was similarly employed by President Obama and later proposed by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
In March of 2016, former president Obama introduced new measures to allow increased access in states to naloxone, bolstered by an $11 million funding plan.
When Hillary Clinton unveiled her plan to combat the crisis during the presidential campaign, she emphasized the need for all first responders to have access to naloxone.
“Clinton believes that naloxone, a rescue drug that stops opioid overdoses from becoming fatal, must be in the basic toolkit for every first responder,” her campaign website read.
During the presidential campaign, then-candidate Trump often spoke of combating the issue by building a wall at the U.S.-Mexican border and said he would “spend the money” to help Americans get treatment.
The commission’s initial report does make mention of funding for the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection but makes no mention of Mexico specifically.
Instead, China is named as the primary target for preventing fentanyl for entering the country.
“We are losing this fight predominantly through China,” the report reads. “This must become a top tier diplomatic issue with the Chinese; American lives are at stake and it threatens our national security.”