Trump administration sidelines Office of National Drug Control Policy in opioid crisis response

Though the Trump administration is putting a focus on the opioid epidemic, the Office of National Drug Control Policy is being left out in the cold in those discussions. 

Instead, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway is spearheading much of the Trump administration's work on opioids, according to an article from Politico, and some work has been delegated to the Department of Health and Human Services or the Department of Justice. Another concern: President Donald Trump hasn't named a permanent drug czar, and is likely to propose significant cuts to the office in a forthcoming budget proposal. 

"It's fair to say the ONDCP has pretty much been systematically excluded from key decisions about opioids and the strategy moving forward," a former staffer in the Trump administration told Politico. 

Though the president has paid plenty of lip service to the drug addiction epidemic—including in the State of the Union address last week—providers and experts have been critical of the White House administration's steps to combat the issue. Trump named the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency, a declaration that was extended by HHS last month, but providers have characterized the move an "empty promise," as it includes little in the way of funding. 

RELATED: 11.8M people misused opioids in 2016, federal report says 

Instead of following the recommendations from his opioid commission, Trump and his advisers have posited the opioid epidemic as additional evidence to back his calls for a border wall, and he has called for a stronger law enforcement response, according to the article. His administration has also called for a "just say no" educational campaign. 

Conway told Politico that she is focusing on policy-driven work and that her team is working to "finalize and centralize strategy, coordinate policy, scheduling and public awareness" across different administrative agencies. The ONDCP's acting director, Richard Baum, has not been invited to meetings with Conway and her advisers, according to the article. 

Trump has also passed on opportunities to engage in public events about the epidemic. Last week, for example, it was First Lady Melania Trump and Conway who attended a panel on opioids at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, CBN News reported

RELATED: 4 actions the Trump administration will take now that opioid crisis is a national public health emergency 

A number of Senate Democrats, many of whom represent states hit hard by the opioid epidemic, have called on the Government Accountability Office to investigate the Trump administration's response. 

In a letter (PDF) submitted to GAO last week, 19 senators said they have "grown increasingly concerned" that the president is doing little to combat the drug addiction crisis. They request the GAO examine how the Trump administration allocated resources available after declaring the epidemic public crisis. 

"It is critical that the federal government utilize all available resources to prevent and treat opioid addiction, as well as utilize all resources efficiently and effectively," the senators wrote. 

National Governors Association launches two opioid epidemic projects 

Meanwhile, states are taking matters in their own hands. The National Governors Association (NGA) has invited 12 states to participate in one of two new projects aimed at helping states combat the opioid epidemic, the group announced.

In the first, representatives from seven states will travel to Kentucky and study how state officials have taken steps to address the increased risk of infectious disease. Officials from Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Michigan, Utah, Virginia and Washington will participate. 

The second project will bring representatives from five states—Alaska, Arizona, Missouri, Rhode Island and West Virginia—to Ohio to learn about their efforts to better care for pregnant women or new mothers who are addicted to opioids and their babies. 

NGA has called on the federal government to provide additional funding to allow states to address these emerging concerns related to the opioid epidemic, according to the announcement.