By: David Levinsky
TRENTON — Pharmaceutical companies have agreed to work together and with federal authorities to develop nonaddictive pain medicines, overdose cures and medication therapy for people already addicted to opioids.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced the agreement Monday afternoon at a news conference following a roundtable meeting with the leaders from over a dozen pharmaceutical companies, plus the chief of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the director of the National Institute of Health, and officials from the Food and Drug Administration.
Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Donald Trump, and former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy also participated in the roundtable, which was convened by Christie in his role as chairman of the White House’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.
The commission found that some 142 people a day die of opioid overdoses across the country, according to a report it released earlier this year. Bucks County hasn’t been immune.
From just more than 40 in 2001, drug-related deaths in the Bucks County have steadily risen, skyrocketing to 168 in 2016. Bucks County is on pace to eclipse the 200 mark this year, Coroner Dr. Joseph Campbell said earlier this month.
“This problem will not be addressed sufficiently in our country if we don’t have the active involvement and partnership with the pharmaceutical companies,” Christie said. “Without their help and their participation, it would be near impossible to be able to accomplish what we need to accomplish.”
Several of the pharmaceutical companies present at Monday’s roundtable are based in New Jersey.
The agreement calls for the National Institute of Health to serve as a clearinghouse for research on alternative pain medicines and addiction treatment. A similar arrangement helped develop drugs for HIV/AIDS patients in the 1980s and 1990s.
Dr. Francis H. Collins, director of the institute, said public-private partnerships have also led to breakthroughs in new drugs for diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. He called addressing the opioid addiction epidemic an “all-hands-on-deck enterprise” that requires similar collaboration.
“What I heard was essentially unanimous agreement that this is an idea whose time has come,” Collins said, adding that the next steps would involve developing work plans with milestones, budgets and time goals.
“We will get this underway in a way that’s pretty unprecedented,” he said.
Conaway, who frequently serves as a spokeswoman for Trump and the White House, said the issue requires the bipartisan cooperation of lawmakers, law enforcement, researchers, doctors and pharmaceutical companies.
“This is no longer someone else’s co-worker, someone else’s community, someone else’s kid,” Conaway said. “Opioid addiction is the scourge across the land. It’s literally touched every state, every demographic group. … Since it’s touched everyone in that way, we believe it’s a challenge that should be shared by all.”
Christie said that there was no established timeline for developing alternative drugs and pain medicines, but that he was confident the agreement would result in a future breakthrough.
The governor has made ending the stigma surrounding addiction and devising ways to combat the crisis the top priorities of his final year as governor, which will end in January.
With only a few months left, Christie said he expects to spend $200 million in state funds on initiatives to help underserved populations like the uninsured or Medicaid enrollees, pregnant mothers and addicted newborns get treatment or counseling.
Christie also said he’s expecting to hear soon from the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services about the state’s application for relief from a federal Medicaid rule that prevents treatment centers with more than 16 beds from billing Medicaid.
“We have every reason to believe that waiver will be granted very soon,” he said. The federal rule, known as the Medicaid Institutions for Mental Diseases exclusion.
Christie repeated his assertion that the loss of life from addiction demands an unprecedented national- and state-level response. He cited the 64,000-plus overdose deaths from 2016, which he said were the equivalent of 17 Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in a year.
“Can you imagine the people in this country knowingly put up with 17 9/11s a year in terms of loss of human life?” he said. “It’s unacceptable. That’s why it’s a national emergency. That’s why the president believes it’s a national emergency.”
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The covered in the Burlington Country Times