While watching election results last November, Shannon Monnat, a Penn State University sociologist, noticed a pattern worth checking.
President Donald Trump “outperformed the previous Republican candidate Mitt Romney the most in counties with the highest drug, alcohol and suicide mortality rates,” Monnat told National Public Radio.
These communities especially suffer economic distress and family breakdown, she said.
So it had special resonance when the new president in March appointed a commission to analyze the opioid crisis.
Last week the commission, headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, urged Trump to declare a national emergency.
Doing so, it said, would “awaken every American to this simple fact: If this scourge has not found you or your family yet, without bold action by everyone, it soon will.”
It would be extraordinary if Trump refuses, since he ordered up the report. So he can be expected to declare an emergency at any point.
Legally, that order could allow government agencies more flexibility in how they run care programs. A declaration could also loosen rules for setting up addiction treatment, proponents say.
In contrast with several other Trump policies, the positions staked out by his drug panel stirred little or no controversy among experts. As described on the wonky website FiveThirtyEight.com, the commission’s suggestions “are largely in line with those of many public health advocates.”
Panel members supported medication-assisted treatment for opioid addicts, including an expanded use of methadone and buprenorphine.
To combat overdoses in the field, the commission urged broader access to naloxone, widely known by the brand name Narcan. The product is expensive. An emergency declaration could give officials leverage to press for cost reductions.
They also called for states to better share data and for improved surveillance of drug-related hospital emergencies.
The panel addressed the boom in abuse of the synthetic opioid fentanyl, which “defies detection at our borders” and said its import should become an issue of negotiation with China, where much of it originates.
Pushing for aggressive government action could raise concerns from citizens of a libertarian bent. Key details remain to be explored, and a time frame hasn’t been announced. The interim report was delayed by several weeks as public comments poured in by the thousands.