Gov. Chris Christie has continued to defend the delay, saying he had spoken to President Donald Trump over the weekend and that he “reiterated his commitment to that getting done.” | AP Photo
TRENTON — The White House has delayed implementing two of the top recommendations of the presidential opioid commission chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, but the Trump administration sent several officials to Trenton on Monday to advance a third program — a public-private partnership with the pharmaceutical industry.
Standing next to Christie, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway said President Donald Trump has made the opioid epidemic a priority, which is why he established the Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis in the first place.
“Opioid addiction is a scourge across the land, it literally has touched every state, every demographic group. So we feel that since it’s touched everyone in that way, it is a challenge that should be shared and worn by all,” said Conway, who is a resident of Bergen County.
On Monday, Conway and Christie met with representatives from 14 pharmaceutical companies, including Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson and Allergan, to continue building a research collaboration between industry and the federal government that was announced by National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins earlier this year.
The partnership, Christie said, will “fast track” the development of non-opioid pain medication, as well as new medication-assisted treatment options.
NIH will function as a “clearinghouse” to share information between companies and help identify which compounds in the development pipeline have the “most potential,” the governor said.
Collins said the research would also focus on new overdose reversal treatments, “because there’s concerns that the current methods may not be strong enough,” particularly for people who have overdosed on fentanyl.
Several of the companies represented at the meeting have been the subject of state-based lawsuits over allegations of deceptive marketing practices related to prescription opioids.
Asked about the responsibility of pharmaceutical companies in fueling the opioid crisis, Christie said he “didn’t spend any time this morning talking about pending litigation because they wouldn’t want to talk about it anyway.”
While the Trump administration has embraced the partnership with the pharmaceutical industry, it has yet to act on the main recommendation from the commission’s interim report, which was to declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency.
It has been more than a month since Trump said he intended to make the formal declaration.
Christie has continued to defend the delay, saying he had spoken to Trump over the weekend and that the president “reiterated his commitment to that getting done.”
The commission’s interim report also proposed waiving a longstanding prohibition on using Medicaid funds to pay for residential substance abuse treatment.
Since the 1960s, the federal government has barred certain health care facilities with more than 16 beds — classified as Institutions for Mental Disease — from receiving federal matching funds to treat Medicaid patients.
The Christie administration applied to remove this restriction as part of a comprehensive Medicaid waiver application submitted to the Trump administration earlier this year.
New Jersey, along with four other states, is still waiting on guidance from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as to whether this additional substance abuse treatment funding will be made available.
The opioid commission was supposed to submit its final report in October, but Christie recently asked for the deadline to be pushed back to Nov. 1.