President’s Commission On Opioid Crisis Says Death Toll Is Like 9/11 Happening Every Three Weeks

Image courtesy of Jason Burrows

We hear a lot about the “opioid crisis” or “opioid epidemic,” to the point that people may be tuning out those words and ignoring the seriousness of the situation. That’s why the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis has an urgent recommendation. It wants the President to declare a national emergency.

Giving the crisis an official designation as a national emergency would prompt Congress to allocate more funding to fight drug abuse. The question is, what would the Commission do with that funding? It lays out plans in its preliminary report [PDF] In its preliminary report, the Commission — assembled by President Trump and chaired by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie — lays out its plans in an ideal, better-funded world.

While we stereotype opioid abuse and misuse as a rural problem, it’s a national issue that has migrated from isolated areas to suburbs and cities as well.

1. There are 147 deaths related to various opioid drugs every day across the country. That’s like the September 11 attacks happening every three weeks, or a full jetliner crash every three days.

2. More people now die every year from drug overdoses (of all kinds) than from gun homicides and automobile crashes combined.

3. How did we get here? As it became harder for people to obtain pain pills in large quantities and without a valid prescription, users have turned to heroin.

4. Heroin sellers in turn have switched to cutting their drugs with imported illegal versions of drugs like fentanyl, as well as drugs that aren’t available in a medical setting.

5. While 21 million Americans report having some kind of substance abuse disorder, only 10% of them are receiving any kind of treatment.

6. Of those 21 million people, 40% have an underlying mental health problem, but only 20% of them are receiving any kind of help for either issue, let alone both.

Advocates for drug policy are concerned, however, that a state of emergency would have other, unintended consequences. Some of the solutions to drug abuse that President and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have in mind involve stepping up law enforcement, building a wall to prevent drugs (and people) from crossing the border with Mexico, and restoring mandatory minimums in drug sentencing.

These ideas were not part of the Commission’s recommendations.

Instead, they focus on increasing treatment capacity, eliminating the Medicaid exclusion that keeps federal funds from being spent on treatment for mental health disorders (including substance abuse.)

The Commission also calls for better training for doctors and dentist on treating acute and chronic pain, expanding addiction treatment that uses medications that prevent drug abuse, and greater distribution of naloxone and wider training on how to use it.

The Commission makes sure to use the September 11 comparison as an example of another national crisis that brought Americans together to achieve a common goal.

“After September 11th, our President and our nation banded together to use every tool at our disposal to prevent any further American deaths. Your declaration would empower your cabinet to take bold steps and would force Congress to focus on funding and empowering the Executive Branch even further to deal with this loss of life,” the Commission wrote in its preliminary report, addressing President Trump.

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