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White House commission urges Trump to declare national emergency on opioids

With 142 Americans dying every day from drug overdose — a death toll that would equal the number of lives lost if the U.S. experienced a Sept. 11, 2001-like terrorist attack every three weeks — President Donald Trump needs to declare a national emergency, a White House commission urged.

Such a declaration would empower Trump's Cabinet to take bold steps and force Congress to focus on funding and further enabling the executive branch to deal with this loss of life, the commission said in an interim report.

"Our nation is in a crisis," the panel, led by Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, said.

Trump signed an executive order March 29 creating the commission and disclosed that he planned to put Christie in charge.

The other commission members include Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina; Republican Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts; former Democratic Congressman Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island; and Bertha Madras, a professor of psychobiology at Harvard Medical School and a psychobiologist at the university's affiliated McLean Hospital.

The panel met for the first time June 16. Since then, the commission has heard testimony from nine leading nonprofits and has received more than 8,000 comments from the public, including those from at least 50 organizations.

Making naloxone accessible

Among the recommendations the panel made in its preliminary report was to provide model legislation for states to allow the dispensing of the rapid opioid overdose reversal agent naloxone through standing orders.

States should also require doctors to prescribe naloxone when they prescribe high-risk opioids, the panel said.

In addition, naloxone should be put into the hands of law enforcement. States also should be provided with federal assistance to buy the drug, the commission urged.

The panelists also called for Health and Human Services to negotiate reduced pricing for naloxone for all government units.

Naloxone was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1971 as an injection to reverse opioid intoxication or overdose. Low-cost generics of the product have been available since 1985.

But after the FDA approved newer versions of the product in 2014 and 2015, prices of the naloxone agents shot up, triggering a Senate inquiry about the costs.

Other recommendations

The commission also recommended that the Trump administration immediately establish and fund a federal incentive to enhance access to medication-assisted treatment.

The panelists called for the National Institutes of Health and the industry to facilitate testing and development of new medication-assisted treatments.

They also urged the Trump administration to rapidly increase treatment capacity by granting waivers to all 50 states to eliminate barriers to treatment resulting from the federal Institutes for Mental Diseases exclusion within the Medicaid program.

"This will immediately open treatment to thousands of Americans in existing facilities in all 50 states," the commission said.

The Trump administration also should mandate prescriber education initiatives with the assistance of medical and dental schools across the country to enhance prevention efforts, the panel said.