Now playing
03:42
Breaking down Trump's opioid announcement
opioids addiction overdose orig nws_00003207.jpg
opioids addiction overdose orig nws_00003207.jpg
Now playing
00:55
Why are opioids so addictive?
Jeremy Moorhead / CNN
Now playing
02:38
Faces of the opioid crisis at White House
Dr. Scott Gottlieb  FDA Chief
CNN
Dr. Scott Gottlieb FDA Chief
Now playing
03:54
FDA chief: Opioids are biggest crisis we face
fentanyl opioids drugs overdose sanjay gupta mobile orig mss_00000000.jpg
fentanyl opioids drugs overdose sanjay gupta mobile orig mss_00000000.jpg
Now playing
00:48
How dangerous is Fentanyl?
Georgia Bureau of Investigation
Now playing
02:08
Deaths from synthetic opioids on the rise
CNN
Now playing
00:56
Kellyanne Conway touts opioid funding
Now playing
05:44
How opioid addiction is hurting businesses
orig am animation brain on heroin sanjay gupta_00000029.jpg
orig am animation brain on heroin sanjay gupta_00000029.jpg
Now playing
01:51
This is your brain on heroin
YouTube/mobile uploads
Now playing
01:31
Protesters throw pill bottles in famous museum
louisville heroin overdose first responder orig sm_00003821.jpg
louisville heroin overdose first responder orig sm_00003821.jpg
Now playing
01:55
Struggling to keep up with overdoses
heroin overdose Ron Hiers recovery nccorig_00004526.jpg
heroin overdose Ron Hiers recovery nccorig_00004526.jpg
Now playing
02:52
Heroin addict watches himself hit rock bottom
naloxone rescue video _00014112.jpg
Louise Vincent
naloxone rescue video _00014112.jpg
Now playing
01:55
Video of a Heroin addict being treated after overdosing
inside new hampshire opioid epidemic origwx js_00021324.jpg
inside new hampshire opioid epidemic origwx js_00021324.jpg
Now playing
02:34
Inside New Hampshire's opioid epidemic
Now playing
01:38
CNN's 'Prescription Addiction' town hall in 90 seconds.
ray lucas prescription opioid addiction town hall sot_00002815.jpg
ray lucas prescription opioid addiction town hall sot_00002815.jpg
Now playing
01:31
Former NFLer: I was a functioning addict

Story highlights

In all, the commission made 56 recommendations

The panel called for drug courts in each of the 93 federal judicial districts

(CNN) —  

The President’s opioid commission on Wednesday recommended nationwide drug courts to help place substance abusers into treatment rather than sending them into the prison system.

That sweeping change was one of the boldest of the 56 recommendations made by the panel, headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

“It’s an ambitious recommendation but one that we think … would be a twofold benefit to the justice system: One, to get help to people who need it in order to slow down recidivism, and secondly, it will lower the federal prison population,” Christie said in unveiling the commission’s final 131-page report.

The report comes six days after President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency, a move that allows for money to be redirected to fight the epidemic and for state laws to be eased.

Last year alone, more than 64,000 Americans died of a drug overdose, primarily due to opioids. That translates into 175 people a day.

“It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction,” Trump said in declaring the public health emergency. “We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic. We can do it.”

In its report Wednesday, the commission said it would like drug courts in each of the nation’s 93 federal judicial districts. As of 2015, fewer than a third of federal districts operated drug courts. The commission also recommended expanding the availability of medication-assisted therapies, increasing treatment capacity for those who need help and making the lifesaving opioid overdose antidote naloxone available to more first responders.

In addition, the panel called for better fentanyl detection technologies, to stop the deadly synthetic opioid from entering the country. Tougher federal penalties for the trafficking of fentanyl are needed too, the commission advised.

The commission also recommended increased electronic prescribing to better track prescribing records, as well as integrating that data with electronic health records along with overdose data to help target patients at higher risk for substance use disorders.

Dr. Andrew Kolodny, executive director of the nonprofit Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, said that many of the recommendations were robust, particularly the idea of requiring informed consent from patients to use opioids. “If prescribers have to get patients to sign a consent form, you will see a dramatic decrease in the casual prescribing,” he said.

The question now becomes how to pay for the new initiatives and whether Congress will act.

“The overall problem here is, we’ve got a commission making recommendations when we need an administration putting out a plan and seeking out appropriations,” Kolodny said. “We need action.”

In his letter to Trump, Christie said it was not the commission’s job to put a dollar figure on what is needed. That onus is on lawmakers, he said. “We urge Congress to do their constitutionally delegated duty and appropriate sufficient funds (as soon as possible) to implement the Commission’s recommendations,” Christie wrote.

Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen applauded the commission’s efforts but said it “does not go nearly far enough.” Most important, Wen said, without new federal funds freed up, thousands of Americans would still not be able to get much-needed treatment.

“The president needs to announce a specific dollar amount for new funding, not repurposed dollars that take away from other key health priorities,” Wen said in a written statement. “Rhetoric alone is not enough.”

Dr. Mitchell Rosenthal, founder of the Phoenix House substance abuse treatment organization, also expressed skepticism about the lack of new funds. “The White House commission on the opioid crisis has outlined many strong recommendations to combat this epidemic, but what’s missing is money – a lot more money to actually implement these proposals,” he said.

And that money needs to come from Congress, said Michael Fraser, executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. “They have a year-end budget they need to finish; I think there’s an opportunity to get that done. But December 8 is coming, and that’s the target date. Is this more important than tax reform? I think so, but I’m not doing the calendar,” he said.

Christie urged Congress and the President to use “block grant” federal funding to “allow more resources to be spent on administering life-saving programs.” That would cut through layers of red tape and help make sure money is not being wasted, he said.

Join the conversation

  • See the latest news and share your comments with CNN Health on Facebook and Twitter.

“One of the most important recommendations in this final report is getting federal funding support more quickly and effectively to state governments,” Christie wrote. “Bureaucracy, departmental silos and red tape must not be accepted as the norm when dealing with funding to combat this epidemic.”

The commission was formed in March to explore best approaches and make recommendations on how to curb the growing epidemic. In the months that followed, the commission met with families who’ve lost loved ones to opioids and met with top health officials and substance abuse experts across the country.

CNN’s Nadia Kounang contributed to this report.