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[ Opinion ]

Testifying Ourselves to death

In a country starving for compassion over health care thirteen Republican Senators were cloistered on June 16th drafting a ruinous, self-serving health care bill. On that same day President Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, chaired by Chris Christie, heard experts on addiction, physicians and advocates, testify. Kellyanne Conway and Jared Kushner were in the room and heard the testimony. You can find my friend Jessica Nickel’s (head of the Addiction Policy Forum) compelling testimony here:   How well Conway and Kushner listened is another matter. Read Margaret Talbot’s excellent commentary on the Commission meeting in The New Yorker here:

Had those thirteen senators emerged from back rooms to hear the testimony they might have learned that 20.8 million Americans meet the criteria for addiction. Had either Ms. Conway or Mr. Kushner bothered they might have tried to impress upon the senators that only one in ten of the people who meet the criteria for addiction actually receive treatment, never mind whether that treatment is even evidence based. They could have impressed upon the senators that the legislation being drafted needs to pay particular attention to the opioid epidemic. Indeed, to do so might even honor some of President Trump’s campaign promises.

Instead there is no communication, no attempt at dialogue, just blather on CNN from Kellyanne defending the Better Care Reconciliation Act. What was she doing sitting in the room where the Christie Commission met except making nothing happen?

I question the need for the Christie Commission, much as I respect those who testified and their knowledge. I know and have worked as an advocate in varying degrees with four of them. Nonetheless, Vivek Murthy, then the surgeon general, issued a report last October that makes much of the testimony to the Christie Commission instant replay. President Trump fired Dr. Murthy in April. What Trump can’t fire is the scientific evidence Murthy and a host of others continue to produce and share.

Were anyone drafting law to pay heed to the recent surgeon general’s report they would understand the importance of compassion in dealing with substance use disorder.

We’re going round and round in circles while an epidemic rages on. We can testify ourselves to death. We know well enough what needs to be done. We can summon experts to testify, but that is not change. We need to summon the will power to move forward. Will power needs to be exercised, not by the afflicted, but by the policy makers who can alter the course of the epidemic in our midst, should they care to do so.