Christie calls for Congress to step up on solving opioids epidemic
INDIANAPOLIS — Americans need to rid themselves of stigmas toward those addicted to opioids in order to fight the crisis, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Monday in Indianapolis.
"This epidemic started not on our street corners. This epidemic started in our doctors' offices. This epidemic started in our hospitals," Christie said. "We created this problem."
"People who are dying today are dying because we refuse to acknowledge the problem we created," Christie told about 500 people at a prescription drug abuse symposium.
The governor's comments came less than a week after President Donald Trump's declaration of the opioid crisis as a nationwide public health emergency; the declaration did not include new funding measures. The financial side is up to Congress, Christie said.
"I'm not going to bid in place of the president. He's going to have to talk to Congress. ... The president doesn't appropriate. It's Congress' job to appropriate," he said, adding, "It's time for Congress to step up and deal with this."
Christie, who chairs the President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, had been urging the president to declare the national emergency.
On Monday, Christie spoke at the eighth annual symposium hosted by the Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill's office.
Christie's speech came two days before his commission is to issue its final recommendations. Christie has said the commission would address how the opioid crisis began and recommend programs but would not seek funding levels.
Following his talk, he discussed funding for the crisis while standing next to U.S. Rep Susan Brooks, R-5th District, who was an early supporter of Christie's 2016 run for president.
"It's up to Congress to take that report, to study that report working with the White House and then to work with the agencies that they're going to task with these recommendations and then ask the agencies how much would this cost. I don't think it's up to Congress to pick numbers out of thin air," Brooks said.
Christie's keynote speech was aimed at health care providers, mental health specialists and emergency response workers.
Americans consume about 85 percent of the world's opiates, he said. About 175 people a day die from drug overdoses, he said.
He recommended that physicians and other health care providers face mandatory classes in handling opioid addiction. He also urged pharmaceutical firms to develop non-opioid painkillers.
And unlike the AIDS crisis, Americans aren't taking to the streets to march in support of finding solutions.
"There are no marches because many people feel that if they were going to march, they'd want to wear a mask. They wouldn't be seen. They wouldn't have to acknowledge," Christie said.
Last Thursday, Trump made the declaration citing the Public Health Services Act. The Public Health Emergency Fund reportedly has a current balance of $57,000.
Trump's declaration does not provide additional funding to battle the crisis. Instead, it allows for expanded access to telemedicine services including remote prescribing of medicine for substance abuse or mental health treatment. The declaration also shifts resources within HIV/AIDS programs and allows the Department of Labor to issue grants to workers dislocated by the opioid crisis.
Last week, U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, said he welcomed the president's announcement.
Donnelly also said he would continue to push for funding that would expand prevention and treatment programs. Those could be accomplished by using the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) and the 21st Century Cures Act.
Donnelly's office told CNHI that he helped Indiana receive $10.9 million from the 21st Century Cares Act. Each state can determine where the funds should be spent. Indiana's Department of Mental Health has issued requests for proposals for the grant.
Donnelly has introduced bills that would combat drug substance abuse in rural communities and also address the shortage of health care providers in treating people battling substance abuse, a spokesman said.
A spokesperson for U.S. Sen Todd Young, R-Indiana, released a statement to CNHI saying, "Senator Young is encouraged by President Trump’s action to address the opioid epidemic that has devastated far too many Indiana families. The declaration of a nationwide public health emergency is one important step in the ongoing fight against the drug crisis, which will continue to require additional resources and innovative solutions.”
In May, Young introduced a bill, the Opioid Addiction Risk Transparency Act, to help health care providers understand the addiction risks of "abuse-deterrent" opioids so that they can tell patients about the risks. On May 4, it was referred to the Committee of Health, Education, Labor and Pensions which has taken no action on the bill.
This summer, Senate Republicans proposed including $45 billion to address the opioid crisis in an effort to replace the Affordable Care Act.