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WH Opioid Commission Member Weighs In On Progress Made In Addressing Crisis

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Dr. Bertha Madras was at this afternoon's White House opioid summit. As a member of the president's opioid commission, she devoted months to crafting 56 recommendations to rein in the nation's addiction crisis. Those recommendations were delivered to the White House on November 1. Dr. Madras is here in the studio with us. Welcome back to the program.

BERTHA MADRAS: I'm delighted to be here. Thank you.

SHAPIRO: So it's been exactly four months since you delivered your recommendations to the president. How satisfied - with you on the progress that's been made in those four months?

MADRAS: Well, I think there's four areas of progress that I'm very, very satisfied with. Number one is there is presidential resolve and cabinet-level resolve, which is critical because when a problem has such high profile, it means that there is a large political and personal stake in solving it. The second issue is that there has been progress on a number of fronts with regard to reducing prescription opioid prescribing...

SHAPIRO: You mean doctors writing fewer prescriptions.

MADRAS: Doctors writing fewer prescriptions with regard to developing a number of initiatives like this waiver - you know, the 16-bed limit in facilities that could not be reimbursed. Five states have bought on. We have to have 45 other states doing it.

SHAPIRO: What are the other areas where you've seen progress that you're happy about?

MADRAS: The - well, when we look at what the initiatives were mentioned today by the four cabinet members - actually, there were five. Every - I met - I had the commission report with me. And I matched what they were talking about. I took very copious notes with regard to what the recommendations were.

SHAPIRO: So they read the report, is what you're saying.

MADRAS: They not only read the report, but they have action plans based on it. And there were a minimum of 40 mentions of - 40 recommendations that we made that were embedded in their remarks. So they not only took into account what the recommendations were, but there clearly are action plans based on this.

SHAPIRO: And so you said four areas of where you see good progress. What's number four?

MADRAS: So - and number four is that there is not only a congressional appropriation, which is six times more per year than has been allocated. But the president wants to add to the budget for FY19 on top of that $13 billion.

SHAPIRO: So they're putting the money where their mouth is.

MADRAS: They're putting the money where the mouth. So I think at every level there is a cause for tremendous optimism.

SHAPIRO: Other members of the committee have been less optimistic. For example, Congressman Patrick Kennedy said essentially he has seen a lot of optics and lip service but not nearly enough action. Do you share any of that frustration?

MADRAS: I admire Patrick Kennedy for his passion and his commitment in this area, but I do think that that was a premature comment because it came before there was any appropriation discussion or presidential budget, that as - he was largely focused on the fact that there was no money allocated for what he designated lip service. And I think there is a clear, tangible evidence of that.

SHAPIRO: In the last minute we have, I want to ask about the White House decision to appoint Kellyanne Conway to lead the opioid effort. She has a background in polling and politics but not in public health. Do you think she's the right leader for this?

MADRAS: I think the best answer to that is she has one advantage that no one else does. And she has the ear of the president on a daily basis, which means that anything that has to be done can be done very rapidly and efficiently and with accountability. And she also has - she can hold the cabinet secretaries' feet to the fire because they're responsible for implementing the federal government response as well as Congress.

SHAPIRO: Dr. Madras, thank you very much.

MADRAS: You're very welcome.

SHAPIRO: That's Dr. Bertha Madras of McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School. She served on the president's opioid commission. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.