President Donald Trump is tapping GOP New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to lead the administration’s efforts to combat rampant opioid addiction and heroin abuse nationwide.
Christie’s position is reportedly part of the White House Office of American Innovation, a new initiative led by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner that is being described as a “SWAT team” of business leaders that will tackle a range of government failings. An anonymous White House spokesman said Monday the announcement is expected this week, after The Washington Post broke the development Sunday evening, reports The Associated Press.
The position will still allow Christie to serve out his final year as governor of New Jersey, which he is largely devoting to legislation aimed at curbing opioid addiction. He recently signed legislation requiring insurance companies cover a minimum of six-months for substance abuse treatment and another bill that put a five day prescription limit for a patient taking opioids for the first time.
Christie also signed an executive order in January creating an eight-member task force to establish new ways to combat the growing health crisis. The order directs the attorney general limit the number of first time opioid prescriptions doctors write and set guidelines making it more difficult to “doctor shop” for refills.
Heroin deaths spiked 22 percent between 2014 and 2015 in New Jersey and doubled the national drug overdose death rate with 1600 fatalities in 2015. Christie declared the opioid epidemic a public health crisis Jan. 17. There are roughly 128,000 heroin addicts in the state and health experts fear that number is likely growing.
“There’s going to be lots of different pieces to try and solve this problem,” Christie said in January. “It’s a disease; we’re doing this because it could be anybody.”
A record 33,000 Americans died from opioid related overdoses in 2015, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. Opioid deaths contributed to the first drop in U.S. life expectancy since 1993 and eclipsed deaths from motor vehicle accidents in 2015. Combined, heroin, fentanyl and other opiate-based painkillers account for roughly 63 percent of drug fatalities, which claimed 52,404 lives in the U.S. in 2015.
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