Justice Dept. Goes After Opioid Makers, Jim Jordan Still AWOL

Nearly a year after President Trump established a commission on the opioid epidemic, Attorney General Jeff Sessions finally announced this week steps to go after opioid manufacturers and distributors. Among those actions, Sessions said the Justice Department will weigh in on major opioids’ litigation that was transferred to an Ohio federal court almost three months ago, and will mount a task force targeting drug manufacturers and distributors’ role in the epidemic.

While positive, this announcement raises a number of questions: why hasn’t federal action come sooner? Will success in litigation result in more needed treatment and prevention programs? And why isn’t more being done?

We’re too often reminded that events shouldn’t have to escalate into a crisis to spark government action. Sadly, though, the opioid epidemic provides another example of how bad things seem to have to get before lawmakers and other government officials take action. We should expect elected representatives whose constituents are in the eye of a storm to be early and ardent proponents of action.

With 14 Ohioans a day losing their lives, it is an insult that our congressman, Jim Jordan, has been virtually AWOL in combating the opioid epidemic. As chairman of a potentially influential congressional panel, Jordan’s had the opportunity to make a real difference in what’s become the state’s worst public health crisis in memory.

You may not know this based on Jim's many inflammatory appearances on cable news, but Rep. Jim Jordan chairs a key subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. That post gives him responsibility for overseeing federal health programs, and as chairman, Jordan can decide what issues his subcommittee will tackle. With record opioid overdoses in Ohio, he could – and should -- have put a spotlight on the opioid problem. He could – and should – have initiated hearings. A series of Jordan-led hearings on the opioid problem, especially early on, would have enabled him to question the adequacy of efforts to combat the problem, to highlight unmet needs, to identify solutions, and to champion efforts to reverse a growing cancer.

But Jordan did none of these things. He did not convene a single hearing on the opioid crisis.

Others in Congress see the problem, and have taken initial steps forward. Recently, in a bipartisan budget act, Congress provided for an additional $1.4 billion to fight the opioid epidemic. Senators Brown and Portman voted for it; but Jim Jordan was among a minority of House Republicans to vote “NO!”

Sadly, we shouldn’t be surprised. Even at the height of the crisis, Jordan said "I'm not convinced the federal government giving more money will solve the problem." Instead of a "grand scheme" handed down from Washington, he said churches, schools and families are best equipped to handle the opioid epidemic.” Quite frankly, Jim is out of touch. Even President Trump’s commission on the opioid crisis recognizes the enormity of this issue. Public health experts are sounding the alarm. Families are overwhelmed and begging for help. Putting this back on them and expecting solutions from already strapped local resources is a cruel non-answer.

It’s clear that Ohio can’t count on Jim Jordan for help in battling opioids.

But we shouldn’t think that the Justice Department or the courts will deliver what’s needed either. Yes, opioid distributors and manufacturers should be punished. But, while we face a public health crisis, we’ve no assurance that monies that may be recovered through the courts will be channeled back into public health funding.

To be clear, we do not lack for answers for how to reverse this epidemic. What we lack is a full-court federal commitment to make needed public health tools, like make medication-assisted treatment and prevention programs, much more widely available. Congress's recent boost in federal funding to combat the epidemic is a step in the right direction.

But with “friends” in Congress like Jim Jordan, Ohioans are at risk of the problem worsening. It’s not simply that Jordan’s got his head in the sand as to what’s needed. His resistance to federal spending is a real danger. That’s because Medicaid is the major source of funding to treat opioid addiction. And last year Jordan voted to pare back Medicaid funding by a whopping $839 billion over ten years, as well as to halt Ohio’s expansion of Medicaid.

It’s time for voters to end Mr. Jordan’s congressional career.

Janet GarrettComment