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Congressman Joe Courtney

Representing the 2nd District of Connecticut

Courtney Calls For Action On The Opioid Epidemic As Trump Declines To Classify It As A 'National Emergency'

August 9, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC —Yesterday, Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02) joined ten colleagues in the House of Representatives to send a letter to President Donald Trump calling for action to address the growing prescription opioid and heroin epidemic. The letter comes after the initial findings of The Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis were released after the commission missed two previously self-imposed deadlines. It also coincides with President Trump’s decision to reject one of the key findings by the commission he created that had recommended classifying the growing prescription opioid and heroin crisis as a ‘national emergency’ which would trigger the release of additional funding and resources to combat the plague of addiction. The letter outlines the need to increase funding for treatment and recovery services, as well as cease efforts to roll back access to health insurance.

“Despite President Trump’s insistence that he is taking action against the rising tide of opioid addiction, all of his activates thus far have shown exactly the opposite - that he is not doing enough,” said Courtney. “Last week, his own commission recommended he declare the growing prescription opioid and heroin epidemic a national emergency. Yesterday, he declined to take any new actions or allocate any new funding. The national death toll is growing by the day and President Trump essentially told the commission to take a walk.

“I have spent a great deal of time meeting with families and first responders over the last two-years to learn more about this crisis and the message from them could not be clearer. They need new resources and more funding to fight back and save lives – it is that simple. There is not enough money either for law enforcement activities or for treatment beds. We need to end the stigma against drug addiction and start treating this epidemic like the public health emergency it is.”

In their letter, the members wrote, “While we appreciate that the Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis led by Governor Chris Christie finally released its interim report on July 31st, we remain concerned that the Trump Administration has not done enough to prioritize the opioid epidemic.

“…we request that you immediately call on Congress to provide emergency appropriations to combat the opioid epidemic and to cease their efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act,” the members continued. “Without addressing these two areas of concern, an effective response to this 21st Century public health emergency will be inadequate.

“We are all concerned by the impact of this epidemic on our communities across the country and across all demographics. We are prepared to work with you to help fulfill your campaign promise to ‘end the opioid epidemic in America.’ Without bipartisan legislative action, the recommendations outlined by your Commission’s interim report will remain unfulfilled.”

 

The full text of the letter is below and available online

August 7, 2017

President Donald J. Trump

The White House

Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

While we appreciate that the Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis led by Governor Chris Christie finally released its interim report on July 31st, we remain concerned that the Trump Administration has not done enough to prioritize the opioid epidemic. As Governor Christie and the interim report stated, the opioid and heroin crisis now takes more Americans every three weeks than the devastating September 11th terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

Yet, it took over six months, and two failed deadlines, for your Commission to release its policy recommendations. Nearly all of those policy recommendations mirror those championed by Senators and Representatives of both parties since this crisis began. In fact, many of the recommendations exist as pending, bipartisan legislation in both chambers of Congress.

While it is encouraging that the recommendations presented by the Commission appear to be bipartisan, it inadequately addressed the two main issues stymying our current efforts to provide sufficient treatment and recovery services: funding for treatment and access to care.

The lack of funding for essential treatment and recovery services is a persistent barrier to effectively addressing the opioid crisis. There has been insufficient investment in treatment options by the federal government and it has made a national response to this crisis slow and inconsistent. Discouragingly, the impact of inadequate funding will be immediately felt if the Commission’s number one recommendation is enacted – the declaration of a national public health emergency.

The Public Health Services Act, which authorized the President to declare national public health emergencies, also authorized a Public Health Emergency Fund that could only be used to support federal efforts to address a public health emergency. Unfortunately, this Fund is currently empty. While the declaration of a public health emergency would provide some additional federal flexibility, the Administration would be severely constrained unless Congress acts quickly to provide emergency appropriations to the Fund.

Additionally, access to quality and affordable health care remains a significant concern. It is encouraging that the Commission highlighted the need to better enforce mental health and substance use treatment parity with private insurers. These statutory improvements were passed as part of the 21st Century Cures Act to address concerns that insurers were not providing appropriate coverage for treatment of substance use disorder and other mental health concerns.

Unfortunately, Congressional Republicans and the Trump Administration continue to seek repeal of existing law designed to increase overall access to health care, which would lead to cuts to Medicaid and the elimination of Medicaid expansion. If these efforts ever succeed, the impact would largely neuter any improvements in enforcing mental health parity laws as envisioned by the Commission. If people cannot access affordable healthcare, then enforcing parity laws will have no benefit to those individuals and families. On the July 31st teleconference announcing the interim report, Governor Ray Cooper, one of the commissioners, acknowledged the need to ensure access to health insurance to ensure Americans have the ability to seek effective treatment and recovery services.

Consequently, we request that you immediately call on Congress to provide emergency appropriations to combat the opioid epidemic and to cease their efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Without addressing these two areas of concern, an effective response to this 21st Century public health emergency will be inadequate.

We are all concerned by the impact of this epidemic on our communities across the country and across all demographics. We are prepared to work with you to help fulfill your campaign promise to “end the opioid epidemic in America.” Without bipartisan legislative action, the recommendations outlined by your Commission’s interim report will remain unfulfilled.

Thank you for consideration of our request.

 

Sincerely,

 

Joe Courtney                                                               Ann McLane Kuster                                                    

Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress

 

 

Tim Ryan                                                                     Tom O’Halleran

Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress

 

 

Ted Deutch                                                                     Marcy Kaptur

Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress 

 

 

Carol Shea-Porter                                                       Chellie Pingree

Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress

 

 

Donald Norcross                                                         Seth Moulton

Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress

 

 

Marcia Fudge

Member of Congress

 

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