There was a recent opinion piece in the NY Times by David Kessler, a former Director of the Food and Drug Administration. The piece was entitled “How To Fight The Opioid Epidemic“. To summarize, the author’s recommendation is as follows:

“The administration needs to put under one authority all of the programs and funding sources focused on drug abuse now spread among more than a dozen agencies…With current workplace technology, the programs need not relocate. The H.H.S. secretary and the attorney general, along with other cabinet officials, can have input. But they need to be part of a centralized effort commanded by a new cabinet member who will have explicit, unambiguous authority over these programs…”

I was immediately reminded of the origins of our current Department of Homeland Security, in the aftermath of the 9/11 catastrophe. Remember the debate around that? The end result was a massive agency whose core missions are (I’ve included the links for each):

  1. Prevent terrorism and enhance security;
  2. Secure and manage our borders;
  3. Enforce and administer our immigration laws;
  4. Safeguard and secure cyberspace;
  5. Ensure resilience to disasters

I’ll leave it up to you: How we doin’ so far? Guess the answer depends on who you ask.

So what could we expect from a newly created Cabinet position for, um, Drug Crisis Management? Would a Cabinet Secretary be able to corral the necessary funds from Congress and cooperation from the other Departments and Executive Branch, given the competing interests?

Yeah, I’m not sure either. When it comes to the US Government, there’s a lot I’m not sure of these days. I thought that blue ribbon commission did a pretty good job with its 60 recommendations, but I haven’t seen much subsequent action. Please let me know if I missed something important.

In fact, to be perfectly honest, I haven’t sensed much commitment from government, period. It’s all under the control of one party, so how much attention does the opioid crisis get on Breitbart or Fox News? That’s probably the best indicator of “political will” when it comes to taking on the opioid epidemic– which by this point is really three interrelated problems, involving prescription painkillers, street heroin, and now, fentanyl. Each requires its own strategies.

That’s a heck of a challenge. One that I fear may require more commitment than our government is yet willing to make. In the interim, we’ll just keep doing the best we can with the (very limited) resources at hand.