WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) are
calling for a multi-pronged strategy to battle the opioid epidemic and expressing
deep concern that the Trump Administration is not taking swift, meaningful action to
assist states, communities, and families suffering from the opioid crisis.

Reed and Whitehouse are among 20 U.S. Senators who sent a letter to President
Trump’s acting drug czar calling for action and expressing dismay that a White House
commission tasked with crafting the federal government’s response to the opioid
crisis has missed repeated deadlines for filing an interim report on the problem.
The senators say President Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the
Opioid Crisis – chaired by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie – is wasting valuable
time by delaying steps that could provide immediate relief to those in need.

Despite making repeated promises to address this issue, there is little indication
the Trump Administration understands the urgency required to effectively combat this
growing epidemic. Not only has the commission missed its self-imposed deadline to
outline an effective strategy to combat the opioid epidemic for a second time, but
the Trump Administration has been actively pushing legislation that would leave
millions of Americans struggling with Substance Use Disorders without the health
insurance needed to seek treatment and has even proposed a budget that would slash
funding for drug treatment services. On top of this, the commission has delayed the
implementation of existing recommendations from health experts that could help save
lives today, including those mentioned in the first ever Surgeon General’s report
released in December 2016. Furthermore, under the administration’s guidance, the
Department of Justice is losing sight of addiction as a public health issue,
choosing to instead pursue a carceral approach to drug abuse.

Reed, Whitehouse recently helped secure $1.86 million in federal funds to help Rhode
Island combat the opioid overdose epidemic. The federal funds, which were provided
in the in the fiscal year 2017 Omnibus Appropriations bill and administered by the
U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), will help the state and local
authorities track this epidemic and respond in real time. The senators say the
funds are critical, but the federal government needs to be a reliable partner and
provide additional resources to support the efforts of states, communities, and
health organizations to help save lives.

“The Administration is choosing to offer more talk, and less action. We know that
law enforcement alone cannot deter addiction. The fact of the matter is that
addiction, like any other chronic condition, is a disease that requires
multi-faceted treatment,” wrote the 20 Senate Democrats who signed the letter,
arguing that the American people can ill-afford the Trump Administration’s delay and
contradictory policy. The Senate Democrats are demanding the Trump Administration
therefore take action immediately, particularly when it comes to already existing
recommendations and prioritizing the successful implementation of bills passed by
Congress that would ensure strong investments in opioid abuse research, recovery,
and appropriate intervention measures.

Senator Reed is a member of the Appropriations Committee and has led efforts to
increase federal resources for Rhode Island and expand access to life-saving
treatment for those in need. Senator Whitehouse is an author of the Comprehensive
Addiction and Recovery Act, sweeping legislation signed into law last year to stem
the addiction crisis.

In addition to Reed and Whitehouse, the letter was signed by Senators: Charles E.
Schumer, Patty Murray, Ron Wyden, Dianne Feinstein, Heidi Heitkamp, Bob Menendez,
Jeanne Shaheen, Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren, Richard Blumenthal, Debbie
Stabenow, Kamala Harris, Maggie Hassan, Tammy Baldwin, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker,
Ed Markey, and Chris Van Hollen.

The full text of the letter follows:

July 19, 2017

Richard Baum
Acting Director
Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP)
Executive Office of the President
Washington, DC 20503

Dear Acting Director Baum:

As the office tasked with administrating the President’s Commission on Combating
Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, we urge you to consider important initiatives
that could help deliver faster relief to millions of Americans. As the Commission is
taking steps to address drug addiction, we are concerned that essential components,
such as action on already existing recommendations, are being delayed. As such, we
urge you to include action steps that can be immediately implemented.

For far too long, opioids have ravaged communities nationwide. Fatal drug overdoses
are now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. Death rates from the
drug and opioid epidemic now rival those of HIV/AIDS during the 1990s, with
overdoses killing more than 50,000 people a year. In the last year alone, nearly
60,000 Americans died of drug overdoses – the largest annual increase in deaths ever
recorded. At this point, it is clear that the epidemic has become a national public
health emergency.

In spite of these tragic statistics, the Administration is choosing to offer more
talk, and less action. We know that law enforcement alone cannot deter addiction.
The fact of the matter is that addiction, like any other chronic condition, is a
disease that requires multi-faceted treatment. Former Surgeon General (SG) Vivek
Murthy outlined recommendations for providing such multi-faceted treatment for
Americans struggling with opioid use disorder in, “Facing Addiction in America.”
This report, released in November 2016, was the first-ever Surgeon General’s Report
on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, and was a milestone achievement to advance a broader,
federal level effort to address the opioid epidemic.

Despite this landmark report, which helped establish the scientific evidence of the
opioid epidemic, the Administration appears to be turning its back on these findings
and continues to take steps that ignore the nation’s growing drug addiction and
opioid problem. In supporting a health care policy that would strip health care
from millions, the Administration will eliminate coverage for millions of Americans
with substance use disorders who now have access to medication and treatment. This
comes on the heels of the Administration’s recent budget proposal, which proposes
cutting nearly $400 million in funding for drug and mental health programs under the
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Finally, during
his opioid epidemic “listening tour” across the nation, Secretary of the Department
of Health and Human Services (HHS), Tom Price, voiced skepticism about the value of
medication-assisted treatment (MAT) in effectively managing opioid use disorders.
Rather, he vouched for methods that would “cure” people of their opioid addiction.
Such rhetoric is archaic and out of line with the well-accepted fact that opioid
addiction may require life-long management as a chronic condition.

At the same time that the White House is pushing these devastating cuts, the
Department of Justice has chosen to ignore the fact that addiction is a public
health disease, choosing instead to treat it solely as a criminal justice issue.
This approach fails to take into account the realities of addiction and the need to
treat the disease rather than punish the individual. History teaches us that a
punitive one-size fits all approach is ineffective. Instead of wasting limited
resources on seeking punitive measures for low-level offenders, we should
concentrate our efforts on the kingpins who are responsible for putting this poison
out on the streets.

It is well past time we treat SUDs as a public health emergency. This means ending
the attack on access to health care, providing necessary resources to initiatives,
and grounding our efforts in hard evidence that will expand access to proven methods
such as MAT. According to the report issued by SG Murthy, these treatments meet the
highest standard of clinical evidence for safety and efficacy. It also means
strengthening community-based prevention programs designed to stop drug use before
it starts, and harm reduction programs, which are proven to reduce stigma and
decrease the risks associated with SUDs. Furthermore, it includes supporting the
resources and staff necessary to carry out the 21st Century Cures and the
Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Acts (CARA), two laws recently passed by
Congress to help ensure strong investments in research, recovery and appropriate
intervention measures. We urge the Commission to use these existing solutions as a
starting point for taking immediate action to address the opioid crisis.

We must act now. For the millions of Americans currently suffering from addiction
or abuse, another day could be a matter of life or death. They cannot afford to wait
for the Commission to finish, yet another report, before action is taken. We stand
ready to work with our Republican colleagues here in Congress on productive
solutions that could provide immediate relief. The American people need coordinated
action and investment in proven solutions now.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer
Patty Murray
Ron Wyden
Dianne Feinstein
Heidi Heitkamp
Bob Menendez
Jeanne Shaheen
Sherrod Brown
Elizabeth Warren
Richard Blumenthal
Debbie Stabenow
Jack Reed
Kamala Harris
Sheldon Whitehouse
Maggie Hassan
Tammy Baldwin
Amy Klobuchar
Cory Booker
Ed Markey
Chris Van Hollen

CC: Governor Christie