The Trump administration is committed to eliminating barriers to an optimal response to the opioid crisis while also combating an “information underload” that leaves too much of the public unaware of public health dangers such as the spread of fentanyl, White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway said Wednesday at the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit.
Conway cited numerous administration initiatives in recent months, including work on a fiscal 2018 budget agreement that bolsters the interdiction, prevention and treatment goals of the president's opioid-fighting strategy, but added that more must be done to overcome the tide of overdose death. “We recognize that these numbers may get worse before they get better,” she said.
Responding to questions from Institute for the Advancement of Behavioral Healthcare director Doug Edwards in a morning plenary session, Conway discussed ongoing efforts to improve access to treatment for opioid dependence. She said, for example, that the president has called on Congress to lift the Institutions for Mental Disease (IMD) exclusion that severely restricts Medicaid reimbursement for adult substance use treatment, adding that five waivers from this restriction have recently been granted.
Conway also said that the administration is planning a national multimedia campaign to increase awareness about opioids. “We want to reduce the stigma and the silence that attends opiate addiction,” she said. The campaign will have both conscience-shaking and heartwarming components, she indicated.
As part of the administration's opioid-fighting strategy, President Trump has stated a goal of reducing opioid prescribing by 30% over the next three years.
Comments on death penalty
Conway also added context to President Trump's comments last month in New Hampshire regarding his desire to see more drug dealers receive the death penalty for their crimes. Given the number of lives that can be lost in the wake of dealing in the highly potent fentanyl, Conway suggested that the existing thresholds for mandatory minimum sentences to be applied are not sufficient to combat today's epidemic.
“We're asking Congress to act on this so that the ability to punish and deter matches up with the growing lethality of this crisis,” Conway said.
She emphasized that a death sentence would potentially apply only to high-level traffickers in special circumstances. The Department of Justice already has issued guidance to federal prosecutors on this, she said.
The National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit is the largest national collaboration of professionals from local, state, and federal agencies, business, academia, clinicians, treatment providers, counselors, educators, state and national leaders, and advocates impacted by prescription drug abuse and heroin use.