Baker Institute expert: Trump commission on opioid crisis offers ‘educated and holistic response’


David Ruth

Jeff Falk

Baker Institute expert: Trump commission on opioid crisis offers ‘educated and holistic response’

HOUSTON — (Aug. 1, 2017) — President Donald Trump’s commission on the opioid crisis asked him Monday to declare a national emergency to deal with the epidemic. The bipartisan panel’s final report on the issue will be released in October, but the initial recommendations indicate the commission’s understanding of the serious and multifaceted nature of the opioid epidemic, according to Katharine Neill Harris, the Alfred C. Glassell III Fellow in Drug Policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. She is available to discuss the issue with media.

Credit: University

“The initial recommendations are an educated and holistic response to the opioid epidemic,” Neill Harris said. “Bipartisan agreement on the need to ‘do something’ to address the opioid epidemic offers hope that these recommendations may be adopted. However, it remains to be seen how the president will respond and whether funding will be provided to carry out the recommendations.”

To address the lack of access to substance-use treatment, the commission recommended that treatment capacity be increased by eliminating barriers created by exclusionary regulations under Medicaid and Medicare. For example, right now any inpatient treatment facility with more than 16 beds cannot be reimbursed by Medicaid or Medicare; this means there are many empty beds at the same time that people are being denied treatment, Neill Harris said. The commission recommends that states be granted waivers on this and other exclusionary regulations; this may be the quickest way to expand treatment capacity, she said.

The commission also recommended that access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) be expanded. “The commission rightly stressed the importance of tailoring MAT protocols to patient needs, rather than expecting patients to conform to the preferred methods of treatment providers or insurance companies,” Neill Harris said.

The commission also called for the expanded access to naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug. “Not only should all law enforcement officers be equipped with it, but the commission also recommended that model legislation be drafted for states that would require naloxone to be given to patients in conjunction with any prescription painkiller,” Neill Harris said. “This would be a simple and effective way to increase access to naloxone, a life-saving medication with no potential for abuse, among people at risk for overdose.”

Several of the commission’s recommendations indicated an expectation that the medical community would play a leading role in the response to the opioid epidemic, Neill Harris said. Specifically, the commission called for implementation of education standards at medical and dental schools to educate providers on the risks of opioid dependence; legal requirements mandating that physicians educate patients on the risks of opioid dependence before issuing prescriptions for painkillers; and participation in prescription monitoring programs across state lines.

Finally, the commission called for enforcement of the Mental Health Parity Act. This law was passed in 2008, yet inequities in care for mental health and substance-use disorders compared with standard medical care are common, Neill Harris said. “The lack of care for mental health and substance-use disorders is a major contributor to and perpetuator of the opioid epidemic; mental health and substance-use issues frequently coincide and traditional medical care often fails to identify people at risk for these conditions,” Neill Harris said. “The commission’s recommendation for the Labor Department to enforce the Parity Act highlights the importance of ensuring access to care for Americans and, if followed, would be an effective tool in addressing the current epidemic.”

Neill Harris’ current research focuses on state sentencing policies for drug offenders and the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana.


For more information or to schedule an interview with Neill Harris, contact Jeff Falk, associate director of national media relations at Rice, at or 713-348-6775.

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Founded in 1993, Rice University’s Baker Institute ranks among the top five university-affiliated think tanks in the world. As a premier nonpartisan think tank, the institute conducts research on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy. The institute’s strong track record of achievement reflects the work of its endowed fellows, Rice University faculty scholars and staff, coupled with its outreach to the Rice student body through fellow-taught classes — including a public policy course — and student leadership and internship programs. Learn more about the institute at or on the institute’s blog,

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.