5 things to know about Kellyanne Conway's role as head of 'opioids cabinet'

Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Donald Trump, is holding weekly meetings with officials from a dozen federal departments to create a plan of action for the opioid crisis and enact recommendations made by the president's opioid commission, according to a report from STAT.

The group — known in the White House as the "opioids cabinet" — is comprised of staffers from HHS and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, among other offices of the executive branch.

Here are five things to know.

1. Conway's appointment to lead the White House's response to the opioid epidemic spurred criticism from many leaders in the political and addiction treatment spheres. Part of the criticism has been derived from the fact that agencies like HHS, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the ONDCP remain without appointed leaders. However, Ms. Conway told STAT she is not a stand-in for these posts.

 "I'm no substitute for that," Ms. Conway told STAT. "Those are incredibly important roles and I think the men currently in those jobs as acting directors are really doing excellent jobs of making sure there's seamless activity."

2. Critics have also highlighted Ms. Conway lacks formal experience in drug policy or law enforcement. Another point of contention surrounds comments she made in June when she said solving the opioid crisis would include "a four-letter word called will." Some addiction treatment experts interpreted the remarks as suggesting willpower could be a treatment for what the medical community considers a disease, which folds into President Trump's common narrative of abstinence. For her part, Ms. Conway has expressed fascination with the president's abstentions.

"I've always been fascinated by the fact that the president has never tried a cigarette, a drop of alcohol — a drop of coffee, for that matter," Ms. Conway told STAT.

3. However, Ms. Conway has impressed some addiction policy experts of various political creeds regarding her tone and sincerity when speaking on the matter. Stefan Kertesz, MD, a professor at the University of Alabama-Birmingham's medical school who studies the opioid crisis and addiction treatment, spoke to STAT and praised comments Ms. Conway made in August when she described addiction as an illness and a community problem. Ms. Conway told STAT her interest in the crisis is varied, but mostly driven by a cousin who was revived after multiple opioid overdoses, but eventually died.

4. While the White House has yet to implement sweeping initiatives to address the opioid crisis, Ms. Conway has met with CMS to discuss changes to reimbursement policy at inpatient mental health facilities, and she has worked to get the marketing campaign recommended by the opioid commission up and running. President Trump told Ms. Conway the marketing campaign is a personal priority.

5. Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., who sat on the presidential opioid commission, told STAT the inability of the current administration to step out of the chaos of its self-induced crises make Ms. Conway an apt choice to head up the opioid crisis response in the White House.

"Bringing in someone else who the president doesn't know as well or have confidence in isn't the right answer, given this president," Mr. Kennedy told STAT. "In another administration you'd get someone with a tremendous CV and unsurpassed record of commitment to public health to lead this. But the president, as we all know, operates very differently from past presidents."

More articles on opioids: 
Post-surgery, potential opioid overprescription rampant 
Pennsylvania County names 21 drug companies and 4 physicians in opioid epidemic lawsuit 
7 recent opioid epidemic lawsuits

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