President-elect Trump can use his skills to help the addiction crisis

Throughout the campaign, President-elect Donald J. Trump said he understands the severity of the opioid drug epidemic that is ravaging communities across the country. Some of the hardest-hit areas are in the Rust Belt states that helped Trump win the election. That’s why I hope and believe he will remember all the voices he heard when he enters the White House.

Remembering, of course, won’t be enough. As just one of too many fathers with a son lost to addiction, I call on Trump to make addiction a priority in his first 100 days.

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In an October speech in New Hampshire, he laid out his plans to fight addiction. I’m happy to say it includes many ideas that we know will work. Now it’s up to the president-elect and the Congress to implement them.

Trump’s plans include a focus on cutting off the supply of heroin crossing the border and tougher prosecution of drug traffickers. There’s no doubt that can help, but it’s only a small part of a comprehensive solution. That’s why Trump must follow through on his promises regarding prevention and treatment.

Let’s start with treatment.  Trump promised to reduce the treatment gap. This is vital. It is unconscionable that only 20% of those suffering from a substance abuse disorder have access to treatment. There simply aren’t enough beds, and many insurers won’t cover long-term treatment. That’s why the new president and the Congress must find ways to expand inpatient and outpatient services, and to increase the number of trained treatment counselors. They must also demand full mental health parity – insurance companies must cover treatment for this disease like any other.

Trump says he’d expand access to the miracle drug Naloxone, which can reverse the effects of an overdose using a simple nasal spray. It’s already saved more than 10,000 lives. It should not require a prescription, it should be covered by all insurance plans, and first responders should carry it everywhere they go.

The second focus must be on prevention. Trump’s plans to keep drugs from entering the U.S. may help, but it’s not nearly enough. The key driver of this epidemic has been the over-prescription of opioid painkillers. Any comprehensive plan must require prescribers to go through training on proper pain management methods. Voluntary training programs have reached a small minority of prescribers. An FDA advisory panel recommended that program became mandatory, and President-elect Trump must appoint an FDA commissioner who will follow through on that recommendation.

A comprehensive solution must also require doctors to consult a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) before writing a prescription for an opioid. This has been recommended by the CDC and other experts, but in only a handful of states are prescribers required to check a PDMP every time they write a prescription. PDMPs can save lives by spotting early signs of addiction (like doctor-shopping) and also by warning doctors who may accidentally prescribe a deadly combination of drugs, such as Vicodin and Xanax.  

Of course, all the plans in the world won’t make a difference unless Washington puts some money behind them. It’s not enough to pass hollow laws. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act that Congress passed this year has all sorts of plans, but little money to implement them. Trump has indicated that he agrees, but it’s up to him to push Congress to follow through.

Like President-elect Trump, I spent decades as CEO of a multi-billion dollar hotel company. In business, you learn that words without action are meaningless. To solve problems, you must have a strategy and then a plan to carry it out. I believe President-elect Trump can use the skills he used to build his company to help solve the addiction crisis.

And also like President-elect Trump, I lost a close family member to addiction. Trump’s brother Fred struggled with alcoholism.

My son Brian struggled with opioids. Both died far too young — Fred at the age of 43, Brian at 25. So I know he understands the suffering that I and so many millions of families are facing. He has a chance to help so many others avoid our fates. It’s up to all of us to make sure he follows through on his promises.