According to Brian Murray, the press secretary for Governor Chris Christie (R-N.J.) who is heading the commission, there is a simple explanation for the delay. The commission has an immense amount of materials to process and formulate into public policy.
“The Commission members heard comprehensive public testimony by nine leading nonprofits, and has received more than 8,000 comments from the public, including comments from at least 50 organizations,” Murray said in an emailed statement to HuffPost. “The information is still being reviewed by the Commission members to inform the interim report. The extensions to submit the interim report were made to ensure adequate time to fully review the extensive public comments received.”
This is the Commission’s second missed deadline in issuing the interim report. Trump faced criticism for even creating the commission. Experts in drug policy and the opioid epidemic argued that the commission was unnecessary especially coming so close after the surgeon general of the United States issued his own report on the opioid crisis in late 2016.
The vast majority of these increases are due to heroin and fentanyl now. The focus not only has to take into account prescription opioids but it has to take into account these new realities. Dr. Bertha Madras, a professor of psychobiology at Harvard Medical School
Former drug czar Michael Botticelli told HuffPost the commission has not used its extra time to reach out to him, even though he is the one person in the U.S. most experienced in combating the opioid epidemic and directing a national public effort to address it. Under President Barack Obama, the former director of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy helped push Congress to pass two bipartisan bills that directly addressed the epidemic and greatly expanded access to evidence-based treatment.
Regina LaBelle, the chief of staff at the National Drug Control Policy office under Obama, said the commission’s delay might not be unusual. But issuing its report soon is critical.
“Having worked on this issue for both terms of the Obama administration, I appreciate the difficulties in getting even draft reports issued,” LaBelle said. “The administration released its first plan on the opioid crisis in 2011. Time is of the essence but I hope that they are taking the time needed to review the science ... and what has been done to date to arrive at recommendations that will bend the curve on the epidemic.”
Commission member Dr. Bertha Madras, a professor of psychobiology at Harvard Medical School, said the delay was “not a story” especially when considering how slow doctors and politicians had been in responding to the epidemic. The seeds of the crisis date back to the rise of prescription painkillers in the early ’90s. These were first heralded as non-addictive.
Although it is not clear what the focus of the commission’s report will be, Madras says the recent rise in fentanyl use needs to be addressed.
“What we’re seeing is that it’s clear the death rates from a number of states that I have access to is not declining,” she said. “The vast majority of these increases are due to heroin and fentanyl now. The focus not only has to take into account prescription opioids but it has to take into account these new realities.”