Trump wants to slash funding needed to fight the opioid crisis by 95 percent
It would essentially dismantle the White House office responsible for responding to one of the worst drug crises in American history.
The Trump Administration is trying to gut the budget of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). This is its second attempt at slashing funding for the top federal office responsible for responding to the opioid epidemic.
The proposed changes would result in the removal $340 million in funding, which is 95 percent of the ONDCP’s budget. This “would effectively dismantle the office,” reports CBS News. According to Trump Administration officials, the ONDCP would still be in charge of White House drug policy, but significant grants that now help it run would be given out by other agencies.
The plan would switch the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) grant to the Department of Justice, according to sources in the administration, reports Politico. The Drug-Free Communities Act, the other top grant program at the drug policy office, would be switched to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), according to the same sources.
The drug policy office has already been awash in controversy throughout the Trump Administration. Trump has yet to nominate a new director, and as Herb reported last week, a 24-year-old former campaign staffer was serving second in command at the drug control agency amid turnover chaos.
National Emergency Designation Rings Hollow
The proposed budget cuts are the latest move showing the Trump Administration isn’t serious about combatting the opioid crisis, according to health policy experts. At the very least, it makes the president’s designation last October, of opioid abuse as a national emergency, ring hollow.
That emergency declaration for the opioid crisis had been set to expire this week. It was renewed for another 90 days on Friday by the acting director of HHS.
Trump hasn’t appointed a permanent director (informally known as the “drug czar”) to lead the White House’s drug policy office. He also hasn’t asked Congress for the funding states say is needed if they’re going to take any significant steps to end the crisis.
The administration has concentrated instead on a “law-and-order” approach that, according to experts, is only a small part of the solution. This emphasis on law enforcement, if overemphasized, could actually hurt more patients than it helps. According to a report from the Human Rights Watch, punitive drug laws often prevent addicts from seeking the help they need.
Battle of the Bureaucracies
The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) last year floated cutting both grant programs that fund the drug policy office. But that plan was abandoned after Republican and Democratic lawmakers resisted. The idea of eliminating ONDCP’s grant-making capabilities was also floated at that time.
The move was described as transitioning the ONDCP into an office like the National Security Council or the National Economic Council by an ONDCP spokesperson. “Just because the NSC doesn’t issue grants doesn’t mean that the White House doesn’t care about national security,” the spokesperson said.
But according to CBS News, a former ONDCP official said the White House has wanted, for a long time, to take away the drug policy office’s budgetary authority.
‘It doesn’t make sense’
But this year’s plan, which would switch both main grant programs to bigger agencies, leaves the drug policy office with little power—or purpose, according to critics. “I’m baffled at the idea of cutting the office or reducing it significantly and taking away its programs in the middle of an epidemic,” said former ONDCP chief of staff Regina LaBelle, who served during the Obama Administration.
The second attempt to defund the ONDCP is expected to get resistance from lawmakers, as the did the first one. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W. Va.), who chairs the Senate appropriations committee overseeing the ONDCP, said she would “resist that move.” In fact, she introduced legislation in November that authorized a boost to both grant programs.
“It’s the only agency in government with the expertise and authority to look at the drug problem holistically and mandate action across the board,” said former ONDCP communications director Rafael Lemaitre, reports CBS News. “Now is not the time to cut the ground out from the public servants working to save lives.” Lemaitre said, calling the move “a dereliction of duty.”
Supporters of moving the grants to other agencies, meanwhile, say it would reduce overlap. The DOJ also works on drug enforcement, and HHS covers substance abuse prevention.