April 14, 2017

Federal role has Baker working on opioid crisis with other states

State House News Service
Governor Charlie Baker is on President Donald Trump's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.

Since being tapped to serve on a White House panel aimed at tackling the opioid crisis last month, Gov. Charlie Baker has been in touch with more than 10 states to pull together strategies for battling drug addiction, he said Thursday.

Baker accepted an offer from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie last month to serve with him on President Donald Trump's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, which is expected to make recommendations by October. Baker said Thursday the group has had phone calls with governors or staffers in "somewhere between 10 and 15 different states" as it begins its work.

"Our goal here is to collect as much information as we can through governors around the country and then incorporate that information into sort of a discussion document, and then see if we can't take some of the best ideas with respect to what's going on around dealing with this issue in various states around the country and turn it into kind of a national conversation about what we can do to move the fight forward on this opioid epidemic," Baker told attendees at a New England Council event Thursday morning.

In March 2016, Baker signed into law a bill that limited first-time opiate prescriptions and all opiate prescriptions for minors to a seven-day supply. In addition to first-time prescription limits, the governor has worked with provider groups and the heads of medical schools to improve doctor training for pain management and prescribing practices.

The Department of Public Health reported in February that at least 1,465 people died of unintentional opioid overdoses in 2016, with another 469 to 562 suspected opioid-related deaths. There were 1,579 opioid overdose deaths in 2015 and 1,321 in 2014, according to DPH data.

The Massachusetts bill has since been used as a model in other states, including Christie's New Jersey.

Baker said Thursday that beating back the opioid epidemic is going to take a "very concerted effort on a persistent, consistent basis over a long period of time" and that he thinks aggregating strategies from other states can address the issue at the national level.

"We're not going to get out of this mess overnight, but I do think that absorbing some of the best practices and best ideas being pursued at the state level around the country and incorporating that into a national strategy could end up being a really effective way to continue the work," he said.

The invitation to serve on the commission came about three weeks after he had dinner at the White House in February, Baker said. At that dinner, he said, he split his time talking to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao about the Green Line Extension and to the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, about the opioid crisis.

"Three weeks after I spent an hour or two, literally just back and forth, with Ivanka about the opioid stuff, I end up getting a call from Chris Christie who is chairing an opioid commission for the administration asking me if I'd be willing to be one of the two governors he was going to ask to serve on this," Baker said.

In addition to Baker and Christie, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, also serves on the commission, which also includes several Cabinet secretaries. The group has been tasked with identifying existing federal funding to combat addiction, assessing the availability and accessibility of treatment and evaluating federal drug abuse prevention programs.

The commission must make initial recommendations to the president in three months and produce a final report by October.

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