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Conway defends WH opioid epidemic plan
02:13 - Source: CNN

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Kellyanne Conway defended the proposed health care bill and its effects on opioid crisis

One expert says she's wrong: The bill "is more likely to make the opioid crisis worse"

CNN  — 

During a contentious interview with CNN, Kellyanne Conway said Friday that the news media needs to cover the nation’s opioid crisis more, and she beat back at suggestions that the new health care bill does nothing to improve the epidemic.

“That’s not true, and that is not fair. That is so not fair,” said Conway, the senior counselor to President Trump, during a back-and-forth with CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota.

She added, “It actually helps no one to peddle the false rumor that this health care bill does ‘nothing’ to help.”

CNN took Conway up on her offer and delved into what the GOP-led bill, called the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, does to address the opioid crisis. Although Conway defended the bill, those on the front lines say the bill won’t help the opioid crisis – and very well could make matters worse.

“If there’s anything in the new health care bill that will help the opioid crisis, I haven’t seen it,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative at Brandeis University.

“I would say the health care bill is more likely to make the opioid crisis worse, rather than better,” he added. “If people right now who have opioid-addiction treatment paid for, and the health care bill results in their loss of coverage, it means people could lose their lives.”

Conway told CNN that the administration has launched a “multi-Cabinet assault on this.”

This month, the US Food and Drug Administration said that drugmaker Endo Pharmaceuticals must remove the opioid painkiller Opana ER from the market. “We will continue to take regulatory steps when we see situations where an opioid product’s risks outweigh its benefits,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a Trump appointee, said after the announcement.

On Friday, Conway touted $500 million in grants given to states from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration under Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Tom Price.

Kolodny noted that those grants are “money that came from a bill that President Obama signed on his way out.” While praising the administration for talking about the issue and forming an opioid commission to look into the problem, Kolodny said it’s time for the Trump team to act.

“I don’t really see anything the Trump administration has done, other than just talk about the problem,” he said. “What I’d like to see from the Trump administration is a large investment in building up an opioid addiction treatment system that doesn’t yet exist.”

The bill proposes $2 billion to boost treatment and recovery services in states next year – far short of the $45 billion over 10 years hoped for by Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio.

Those struggling with addiction, Kolodny said, need easy access to maintenance therapy drugs like buprenorphine. He also said the government must do more to regulate opioid manufacturers to prevent new cases of people becoming addicted to opioids.

“If heroin, fentanyl and painkillers remain easier to get, then we’re really not going to be able to see deaths come down.”

Other experts agree,

Arthur Evans, CEO of the American Psychological Association, said the new bill will weaken Medicaid and allow states to waive essential health benefits, including for those seeking treatment of their opioid addictions.

“At a time that we are trying to get more people access to treatment, we’re essentially taking away access,” Evans said. “I think this really undermines any efforts that we might have in trying to curb the opioid epidemic.”