President Donald Trump signed an executive order on March 29 that created the Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, designed to fight drug abuse, addiction and overdose in the United States.
Trump tapped New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to oversee the project.
“Governor Christie will be instrumental in researching how best to combat this serious epidemic and how to treat those it has affected,” Trump said in a press release. “He will work with people on both sides of the aisle to find the best ways for the federal government to treat and protect the American people from this serious problem.”
The commission is a leg of the White House Office of American Innovation, which is run by Trump’s son-in-law and top advisor Jared Kushner. Christie’s role in the commission is currently part time, as he intends to finish his term as governor of New Jersey.
Christie has embraced the new responsibilities.
“[President Donald Trump] asked me to help with this, and I’m going to,” Christie told The Associated Press. “It’s an issue that I care about a lot in New Jersey and for the country, and so the president asked me to do this, and I was happy to.”
Christie has seen the consequences of addiction. His mother was addicted to nicotine and was later diagnosed with lung cancer. A college friend of Christie’s battled prescription drug addiction and died of overdose in a motel.
“He’s a drug addict, and he couldn’t get help and he’s dead,” Christie said during a 2015 speech. “We need to start treating people in this country, not jailing them. We need to give them the tools they need to recover, because every life is precious.”
Since then, Christie has passed legislation to reduce opioid abuse in New Jersey. In 2017, he signed a bill that limits the length of initial opioid prescriptions to five days. The law also calls for state-regulated health insurers to cover at least six months of addiction treatment.
Christie, who recently classified New Jersey’s opioid epidemic as a public health crisis, attended a White House meeting on March 29 alongside Trump, law enforcement officials and people in recovery. Afterward, he spoke about the perils of substance use disorders.
“Addiction is a disease, and it is a disease that can be treated,” Christie told reporters. “Folks don’t talk about it … People are afraid and ashamed to talk about drug addiction.”
Over the last decade, painkiller abuse has ravaged the United States. Opioids were involved in more than 33,000 deaths in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 1999, opioid overdoses have quadrupled.
Since his inauguration, Trump has promised a ruthless fight against illegal drugs and gang members.
“We’re going to stop those drugs from poisoning our youth, from poisoning our people,” he said during the Major Cities Chiefs Association Winter Conference in February. “We’re going to be ruthless in that fight. We have no choice.”
He has since put those words into action. On Feb. 9, he introduced three executive orders, two of which are focused on combating drug crimes and another is designed to ensure the safety of law enforcement officials.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy survived Trump’s proposed budget cuts after speculation that the anti-drug agency could be eliminated.