Baltimore City Health Commissioner Responds to the Final Report by the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis

As both Opioid addiction rates and Opioid-related death rates continue to grow exponentially all through the nation, legislators and government officials are now taking action to take preventive measure against the action at state and federal level.

Amongst these efforts is the Presidents’ Commission on Combating Opioid Crises. Established by the executive order in late March this year. The Commission is led by the New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the Commission’s main focus is to study the impact of the federal response to this issue and what recommendations will they come up with to improve federal response.

Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore City Health Commissioner, issued the following statement as a response to recommendations made by the President’s Commission on Combating the Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crises:

“While the final report issued today by the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis addresses critical aspects of the fight against the nation’s opioid epidemic, it does not go nearly far enough. As was the case with the President’s declaration of a limited public health emergency last week instead of a full national state of emergency, these recommendations stop short of providing the resources needed to urgently combat this national tragedy.

Specifically, I am disappointed that the report did not address the following three points:

“First, the Commission failed to advocate for taking all necessary steps to expand health insurance. This includes protecting Medicaid, which covers 1 in 3 patients who have a substance use disorder, as well as ensuring that essential health benefits covering addiction and mental health treatment remain as part of every insurance plan. There should also be coverage for other wraparound services that are critical for treating addiction, such as connections to treatment, coverage for supportive housing, and reimbursement for peer recovery specialists. The Commission recommended block grants, but grants alone cannot be depended on for treatment of such a widespread disease as that of opioid addiction.

“Second, the Commission does not adequately address the issue of treatment for the disease of addiction. The Commission does have recommendations to support medication-assisted treatment, but it needs to go beyond that to require the integration of substance use treatment into medical practice. That could include requiring all eligible physicians to obtain the waiver to prescribe buprenorphine and approving state-level pilots for integrating primary care and behavioral health treatment. Medication-assisted treatment should be offered not only in existing facilities that offer such treatments, but it should be the standard of care for all treatment centers that offer addiction services.

“Finally, and of utmost importance, the Commission failed to identify substantial increases in federal funding that may be employed in the fight against the opioid epidemic. National state of emergency declarations comes with commitments for funding. When hurricanes devastate communities, it’s understood that billions of dollars are required to rebuild homes and repair infrastructure. The same understanding applies for stopping an epidemic. In Baltimore and across the country, we desperately need these resources. Studies show that only 1 in 10 people with addiction can receive the treatment that they need — a statistic we would not find acceptable for any other disease. The President needs to announce a specific dollar amount for new funding, not repurposed dollars that take away from other key health priorities. Rhetoric alone is not enough.  We know what works to overcome this crisis. We just need the resources and the will to get there.”

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