Trump May Cut the Office of National Drug Control Policy

By Paul Gaita 03/01/17

Advocates hope that Trump's vague statements about fighting opioid abuse will spare the office from proposed budget cuts.

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President Donald Trump's proposed federal budget, which seeks to increase military spending by a staggering $54 billion, also calls for severe reductions to numerous domestic programs like the Environmental Protection Agency and Internal Revenue Service, which provide essential benefits to millions of Americans.

Among the agencies that suddenly find themselves at risk is the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which oversees the government's anti-drug programs. In response to the news, letters opposing the move have been sent to Trump and the new head of Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, from a coalition of medical and drug policy groups, as well as from the National Fraternal Order of Police.

More than 70 organizations, including the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Major County Sheriffs of America, signed the letter, sent to Mulvaney this week, which underscored the crucial importance for a drug policy office in the midst of a nationwide opioid crisis by stating, "At a time when drugs now kill more people than firearms or car crashes, it is more important than ever for ONDCP to remain a strong voice in the White House and a visible presence nationally." 

The letter from the National Fraternal Order of Police, sent to Trump this week, echoed the sentiments of the Mulvaney letter by urging the new administration to "reject any notion or proposal to eliminate the ONDCP and in fact, urge you to ensure that the budget prioritizes its efforts and those of State and local law enforcement to combat the use and sale of illegal narcotics."

A spokesperson from the White House issued a statement in regard to the fate of the ONDCP, stating that it would be "premature for us to comment – or anyone to report – on any aspect of this ever-changing, internal discussion before the publication of the [budget]."

The ONDCP itself has been relatively silent in regard to the proposed cuts, though acting director Kemp Chester sent an email on February 21 that attempted to assuage concerns about the fate of his office. "We are still working hard on behalf of the American people to address drug use and its consequences," he wrote. "This includes working with President Trump's team to develop his drug policy framework for our Nation going forward." However, the office has been removed from the White House's official website.

Advocates are currently hoping that Trump's vague statements about fighting opioid abuse will spare the office from proposed budget cuts.

"In the middle of the biggest opioid epidemic and with an increase in overdose deaths, I cannot imagine they would be looking for less oversight," said Jessica Nickel, executive director for the Addiction Policy Forum, which was among the signatories on the Mulvaney letter.

Sources have also noted that former New Hampshire Congressman Frank Guinta, who oversaw a task force to combat the heroin epidemic in his state, is reportedly being considered to take over as "drug czar" at the ONDCP.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has called for bipartisan support for drug treatment, is also reportedly in talks with the White House to chair a specialized task force on the drug problem. The addition of both to Trump's drug policy team was hailed by former ONDCP adviser Kevin Sabet as a move that could "elevate the [opioid] issue to the place it deserves."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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