Trump Weighs 95 Percent Cut to Office of Drug Control Policy

  • Acting director warns of program eliminations, job cuts
  • Chief of staff Reince Priebus says nothing’s been finalized

The Trump administration is weighing a cut of almost 95 percent of the budget for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy at a time the president has pledged to aggressively combat opioid addiction, according to an internal memo.

The office, which coordinates much of U.S. strategy on illegal drugs including responses to trafficking, could see several grant programs for drug prevention discontinued under the proposal, which was decried by prevention advocates and members of Congress from both parties when it was reported on Friday.

“These drastic proposed cuts are frankly heartbreaking and, if carried out, would cause us to lose many good people who contribute greatly to ONDCP’s mission and core activities,’’ Richard Baum, acting director, wrote Friday in a staff memo that was provided to news outlets.

President Donald Trump pledged to take on the opioid epidemic during his presidential campaign as he traveled to many communities ravaged by heroin use and overdose deaths.

White House spokesman Sarah Sanders on Friday had dismissed reports about the proposed budget cuts, which were first reported by Politico, saying the president was committed to addressing the opioid crisis.

“We haven’t had a final document and I think it would be ridiculous to comment on a draft version of something at this point,’’ she said.

‘Absolute Priority’

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price on Sunday said fighting the opioid crisis is “an absolute priority,” for the Trump administration, including through $485 million provided in grants to states.

“I’m moving around the country this coming week to go to states where we want to make certain that they are allowed and have the resources to be able to address this opioid crisis,” Price said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “This is an absolute scourge in our country; 33,000 deaths last year due to opioid overdose. We cannot tolerate that.”

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus described the budget proposal as “a leaked document” and said nothing’s been finalized.

“I would always tell people, judge President Trump by his actions, not leaked documents and hypotheticals,” Priebus said on “Fox News Sunday.” “And the actual actions of this president is a total commitment to this epidemic across this country.”

Priebus said there are “duplicative services” on drug policy “all over the place,” mentioning the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice for starters.

Heroin Epidemic Fueled by Legal Drugs

A spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget provided a list of federal drug prevention programs in several agencies, indicating that changes to the drug policy office may be part of a broader restructuring.

The fiscal year 2018 budget “is still under review and is not by any means a finalized document,” John Czwartacki, a spokesman for OMB, said in a statement. “Reports that suggest budgetary numbers or policy decisions are premature and subject to change.”

Trump is scheduled to release his proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 later this month. Congress will have the final say on whether or not to accept his proposals.

Senator Rob Portman

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

“We have a heroin and prescription drug crisis in this country and we should be supporting efforts to reverse this tide, not proposing drastic cuts to those who serve on the front lines of this epidemic,’’ Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, said in a statement.

Trump signed an executive order on March 29 creating a “Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis,” which directed the drug policy office to use its funds to cover the costs of the commission.

“Opioid abuse has become a crippling problem throughout the United States,” Trump said before signing the order. “This is a total epidemic. And I think it’s almost untalked about compared to the severity that we’re witnessing.”

‘Staggering’ Consequences

Scott Gottlieb, Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is part of HHS, said in his confirmation hearing that tackling the opioid epidemic should be the agency’s highest priority. The crisis “has staggering human consequences,” said Gottlieb, who is expected to be confirmed by the Senate this week.

Baum said the cuts proposed by the Office of Management and Budget will make it harder for the commission to achieve its goals. The commission is led by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Trump supporter who also has been a strong advocate for addiction treatment.

Representative Tom Marino

Photographer: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call,Inc. via Getty Images

“OMB’s proposed cuts are also at odds with the fact that the President has tasked us with supporting his Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis,’’ Baum said in the letter.

A candidate to run the ONDCP, Republican Representative Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, withdrew from consideration on May 4 citing family reasons but said he’d remain in Congress.

— With assistance by Chris Strohm

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