When a politician doesn’t know how to solve a problem, he suggests a commission to study the situation and suggest remedies.
Last week, President Donald Trump launched a commission to study the nation’s opiate addiction crisis. It is encouraging that Trump is paying attention to the problem, but more review is not what the nation needs.
We already know what works. For those in the grips of substance abuse disorder, medication-assisted treatment is the most promising pathway forward.
“The research is unassailable,” the Pew Charitable Trusts said in a report last year. “Staying in recovery and avoiding relapse for at least a year is more than twice as likely with medications as without them. Medications also lower the risk of a fatal overdose.”
But only about 10 percent of those needing treatment get it, according to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Harm. That leaves more than 20 million Americans unable to get treatment.
Barriers include a shortage of medical providers licensed and trained to provide the medications, a lack of insurance among those who need them and limited coverage for addiction treatment or none at all from some insurance plans. The result is long waitlists of people with substance use disorders who want to stop using drugs.
As with many other problems, additional federal spending is needed to address America’s opiate addiction crisis. The president’s budget proposal does not include additional funding beyond what Congress has already approved, despite the Trump administration’s claims to the contrary.
The White House budget plan pledges $500 million in funding to “expand opioid misuse prevention efforts and to increase access to treatment and recovery services to help Americans who are misusing opioids get the help they need.” This sounds great, but that money was already included in the 21st Century Cures Act, which Congress passed and former President Barack Obama signed last year. There is no additional money forthcoming from the Trump administration.
Last year, 378 Maine people died of drug overdoses. Of those, 313 were attributed to opioids, including heroin and fentanyl. Some of these drugs were obtained with prescriptions.
For those coping with chronic pain, new restrictions on the amount and strength of opiate painkillers that doctors can prescribe may help deter addiction. Last year, Maine lawmakers approved new rules limiting opiate painkiller prescriptions to seven days for acute pain and 30 days for chronic pain for most patients. It also limits the dosage that can be prescribed. To avoid doctor shopping, the law change also requires prescribers to check the state’s prescription monitoring program before writing prescriptions for opiate painkillers.
Trump, along with Maine Gov. Paul LePage, has emphasized the need for more and better law enforcement to keep illegal drugs out of the United States. Although states and the federal government have poured billions of dollars into drug interdiction efforts in recent years, the addiction problem has continued to worsen. Trump now suggests that the wall he intends to build along the U.S.-Mexico border will keep out heroin. This, of course, isn’t true.
One bright spot from Trump’s opiate commission announcement is that it will be run by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. As it prepared the White House budget plan, the Office of Management and Budget had considered eliminating that office. Reversal of that decision is a positive development; Congress should ensure the office remains funded.
Beyond this, lawmakers should focus on funding and supporting treatment that works instead of waiting for yet another commission to study addiction.