In October, President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency, but now he is planning to gut the budget of the office responsible for coordinating the federal response to that crisis.
Trump wants to slash the budget of the Office of National Drug Control Policy by 95%, according to a report in Politico. It’s the second attempt by the Trump administration to cut funding for that office.
Under the plan, the office’s two main grant programs would be shifted to the Justice and Health and Human Services departments in the fiscal 2019 budget, according to Politico. The two programs are the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas grant and the Drug-Free Communities Act, the report said. That shift would cut the office’s budget by $340 million, leaving it to oversee the White House’s drug policy but moving those grant programs into the other agencies, according to the report.
The plan has some people questioning whether the Trump administration is serious about addressing the opioid epidemic. “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,” Regina LaBelle, who served as the office’s chief of staff during the Obama administration, told Politico.
Trump’s declaration making the epidemic a national emergency is set to expire next week. In October, when he announced the declaration, he called the opioid crisis the worst in American history. No part of society has been spared the plague of drug addiction, Trump said at the time, adding “we can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic.”
The president has not named a new “drug czar” or permanent director to oversee the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
In October, Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Tom Marino withdrew his bid for the drug czar post after allegations surfaced that he earned nearly $100,000 from pharmaceutical lobbyists while backing legislation that would make it easier for drug companies to distribute opioids and circumvent the Drug Enforcement Agency.
The opioid epidemic kills about 175 Americans per day. Although opioid overdoses have made national headlines, hospitals are also dealing with another consequence of drug addiction, including the overwhelming spread of infectious diseases among intravenous drug users.