Patrick Kennedy, who was appointed to the president’s commission to find ways to arrest the opioid health crisis, said that the “Republican-led Congress has turned the work of the commission into a ‘charade’ and a ‘sham,’” CNN reported.
But the next day, in a development the commission had to know was in the works, President Trump announced a key new measure to battle the crisis. Trump ordered the Drug Enforcement Administration to change its policy and allow nurses and physician assistants to prescribe buprenorphine – an opioid used to treat opioid addiction, rather than allowing physicians only to prescribe the drug.
The move would improve access to the drug where it is needed most–rural areas that often have a shortage of physicians. The DEA cited a 2017 study published by the National Rural Health Association that found 53 percent of rural counties had no physician able to prescribe buprenorphine.
The opioid crisis has become the leading cause of death in the U.S., with more than 42,000 killed by opioids in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Trump declared opioids a public health emergency, “which redirected federal resources and loosened regulations to combat opioid abuse,” according to a Reuters story. The president also donated his third-quarter salary to finding solutions to the crisis.
But Kennedy, whose own political career was dimmed in part by problems with substance abuse, said Trump has not committed any new funding to the crisis, so nothing is changing on the ground. Even Trump’s decision to renew the public health crisis designation for another 90 days amounts to posturing, according to CNN and Kennedy.
“Everyone is willing to tolerate the intolerable–and not do anything about it,” Kennedy, one of six appointees to the bipartisan commission, told CNN. “This and the administration’s other efforts to address the epidemic are tantamount to reshuffling chairs on the Titanic. The emergency declaration has accomplished little because there’s no funding behind it. You can’t expect to stem the tide of a public health crisis that is claiming over 64,000 lives per year without putting your money where your mouth is.”
How the figure rose from 42,000 to 64,000 in one year is anyone’s guess. The World Health Organization reported in 2014 that 69,000 people worldwide have died from opioid overdoses.
“Forget the crumbling infrastructure,” Kennedy said. “We’re losing this country from the inside out. Now you’re going to ask me how I really feel.”
The biggest problem for opioid addicts was the decision by Trump and the Republican Congress to let Americans keep more of their paychecks, Kennedy said. CNN quoted him as saying the tax cuts would “set this country back further than anything else in our ability to tackle the opioid crisis. Period.”
It will “cost” the government “’more money in a year than we could spend in a decade to solve this crisis,’” it quoted him as saying. Nothing that “rises to the level of meaningful effort towards tackling this crisis” can be done now.
“No way, no how.”