Gov. Chris Christie continued his crusade to secure federal funding for the nationwide opiate addiction epidemic on Tuesday, urging Congress to put “this public health emergency front and center” during a House committee hearing.
“Our people are dying,” Christie, the chair of President Trump’s opioid commission, told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. “More than 175 lives are lost every day. If a terrorist organization was killing 175 Americans a day on American soil, what would we do to stop them? We would do anything and everything. We must do the same to stop the dying caused from within.”
The opioid commission released a final report earlier this month recommending a number of sweeping policy changes that would dramatically alter how drug treatment and enforcement is carried out in the country. Those changes include establishing drug courts in every judicial district in the country to reduce incarceration and improve access to treatment, as well as mandatory medical education for all opioid prescribers, an effort to limit over prescriptions of highly addictive drugs.
In October, Trump declared the opioid epidemic as a national health crisis, a move that will free up some resources to expand treatment options like those Christie recommended in his report. However, Congress still needs to appropriate funding to fight the crisis, something that Christie has been lobbying for as part of his position on the commission. Specifically, Christie said that Congress should fully enforce the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act “to ensure that health plans cannot provide less favorable benefits for mental health and substance use diagnoses than physical health ailments.”
“Although many of us at the state and local level have been undertaking this battle for many years, the president has now taken it to the next level by declaring the opioid crisis a national public health emergency under federal law,” Christie said. “Through this one act, the president signaled to the country that the force of the federal government should and will mobilize to reverse the rising tide of overdose deaths. Now, Congress must play its role and provide the funding that this country needs to do just that.”
Christie also touted New Jersey’s opioid-related actions as a model for the nation, noting that the governor’s January state of the state address focused on addiction and recovery efforts. During his final year in office, Christie has established a Drug Abuse Control Task Force, launched a hotline for those struggling with addiction and created a large-scale marketing campaign to educate drug users about state-provided options. A September NJ Advance Media analysis found that in 2016, about 2,000 New Jerseyans were killed by drug overdose.
In October, New Jersey Attorney General Chris Porrino announced that the state would sue two major manufacturers of opioids, claiming that they used deceptive practices to market and sell the drugs without significant warnings about addiction risk.
“It is time now for the federal government to follow the lead of my state, and many other state and local governments who have begun to face this challenge head-on,” Christie said. “In New Jersey, we are committing resources across all agencies and the federal government must do so as well if we are going to have a chance to win this battle.”
Other commission recommendations include expansion of care facilities, investment in non-addictive pain medication development, a national multi-media campaign related to addiction and eliminating reimbursement barriers to substance abuse treatment.