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Opioid panel calls for Trump to declare federal state of emergency

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The commission, led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, called for dramatic action to address an opioid crisis that is killing more people than it ever has. (Bob Karp/The Daily Record via AP)

President Trump's commission aimed at combating opioid abuse is recommending the president declare a federal "state of emergency" on the epidemic.

The commission, led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, called for dramatic action to address an opioid overdose crisis that killed more than 33,000 Americans in 2015, more than in any previous year.

"Your declaration would empower your Cabinet to take bold steps and would force Congress to focus on funding and empowering the executive branch even further to deal with this loss of life," the commission wrote in an interim report released Monday outlining a recommended strategy for the federal government to fight opioid abuse. "It would also awaken every American to this simple fact: if this scourge has not found you or your family yet, without bold action by everyone, it soon will."

Governors in Florida, Arizona and Maryland have declared states of emergency, granting those governments access to millions of dollars.

The Democratic senator representing the state with the highest overdose rate in the country said he agreed with the commission's proposal.

"When I'm on the ground in my home state of West Virginia and when I hear the stories of those struggling with opioid addiction it's obvious our country is in crisis," said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., in a statement. "Declaring a national emergency will allow the administration and Congress to act with the immediacy that's needed to end this epidemic."

The commission issued other interim recommendations, including:

• Providing federal incentives to increase access to medication-assisted treatment, a fast-growing response to addiction.

• Creating model legislation for states to allow dispensing of naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal medication.

• Prioritizing funding and manpower to Customs and Border Protection, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the FBI to develop "fentanyl detection sensors" at U.S. borders. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid more powerful than heroin. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the share of drug overdose deaths across the nation involving synthetic drugs such as fentanyl rose from 8 percent in 2010 to 18 percent in 2015.

• Giving federal funding and technical support to states to improve sharing of data that tracks the prescribing and dispensing of opioid painkillers.

• Mandating prescriber education initiatives so that providers understand the risk of opioid misuse.

• Eliminating a provision of Medicaid that prohibits reimbursements for inpatient providers treating mental diseases, including substance abuse disorder, that have more than 16 beds. "This will immediately open treatment to thousands of Americans in existing facilities in all 50 states," the commission says.

Trump created the Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis in March after campaigning to curb opioid abuse and provide more access to treatment. Under the order, the interim report was due June 27, but Christie asked for a delay after receiving more than 8,000 comments from the public, including comments from at least 50 organizations. The panel is scheduled to release more recommendations in the fall.

In addition to Christie, a Republican, the commission includes Democrats Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina and former Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts.