Christie Laments Delays in Declaring National Emergency on Opioids

Chris Christie. Tim Larsen/Governor's Office

Two months after he first proposed the idea, Gov. Chris Christie said he is holding out hope that President Trump will declare a national emergency on opioid addiction before the end of the year.

Trump said in early August that he would be declaring such an emergency, which would allow the federal government to mobilize funds quickly on a range of anti-opioid programs. But the president has not yet signed an executive order declaring the opioid crisis a national emergency.

“You can’t get those two months back,” Christie said at a news conference in Trenton on Tuesday when asked about the delay. “So it’s not good that it hasn’t been done yet.”

Sounding sanguine but somewhat miffed, Christie said the delay was due to the White House undertaking a complex legal review. Declaring a storm emergency is one thing, but in some ways it would be unprecedented to declare an emergency on drug addiction, Christie said.

“A storm, there’s a certain end to the immediate crisis and then you have rebuilding and recovery,” he said. “This could be years. And so I understand some of the nuance here is unusual and difficult but I can’t imagine it’s insurmountable.”

He added that he took the White House at its word when told the legal review was holding up the process. “I’m not the drug czar, I’m not the White House counsel, I’m not the attorney general of the United States,” he said.

Unlike Christie, Trump’s former Health and Human Services secretary, Tom Price, did not see the need to declare a national emergency on opioids. Price resigned last month after it was reported that he was billing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars for expensive chartered flights.

Christie was asked about the national emergency declaration Tuesday after unveiling a report on the opioid crisis with 40 recommendations for the state government from a task force he appointed at the beginning of the year.

The most significant change proposed by Christie’s New Jersey task force was to raise the limit of naloxone, or Narcan, that first responders can carry in New Jersey.

Christie said that “shockingly,” some emergency medical technicians in the state may carry only 2 milligrams of Narcan, which is described as a miracle drug that can reverse the fatal effects of an opioid overdose if it is administered in time. The state Department of Health would work immediately to raise the limit to 4 milligrams, the governor said.

The federal government also should raise the Narcan limit to 4 milligrams for first responders, Christie said. Other suggestions from the New Jersey report also will be considered at the next meeting of Trump’s commission on Oct. 20, Christie said.

“I think these are things that could be scaled on a national level,” he said.

The governor also announced that, in an effort to get better data on opioid deaths in New Jersey, the state Office of the Medical Examiner would get “additional funding to hire staff, upgrade equipment and outsource certain toxicology reporting.” He added that currently, the standards medical examiners use to determine what constitutes an overdose vary county by county, and that the state may need to pass legislation to have uniform rules.

The opioid epidemic has become one of the deadliest in the United States in recent years, with 1,901 deaths on record in New Jersey for 2016, according to state statistics. Research suggests the opioid epidemic is also taking a toll in non-lethal ways. In a new study, Princeton University economist Alan Krueger found evidence suggesting that a rise in opioid painkiller prescriptions from 1999 to 2015 could be linked to a decline in the labor-force participation rate of young Americans.

“We’re just combating this at a time when it’s becoming exponentially more prevalent,” Christie said. The goal, for now, he said, is “slowing the rate of increase in the next year or two and then hopefully a decline after that.”

Without the emergency declaration, Trump’s plan at the national level would not be as effective, Christie said. New Jersey just devoted $200 million to the opioid crisis in its $34.7 billion state budget.

“We’re spending in New Jersey this year what the federal government in total spent last year on dealing with this crisis,” Christie said. “We’re putting our actions where our rhetoric is and I trust the White House will do the same.”

Christie Laments Delays in Declaring National Emergency on Opioids