The White House is calling for a 95 percent funding cut for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the agency leading the charge against the country’s opioid epidemic, according to sources knowledgeable about the White House’s draft budget for the coming fiscal year. ONDCP is responsible for coordinating drug prevention programs across federal agencies and was slated to fund President Donald Trump’s much-lauded opioid commission.
The budget would slash ONDCP’s $380 million budget to $24 million. It would eliminate the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program, which coordinates local, state, and national efforts to reduce drug trafficking and has a $250 million annual budget. It would also cut the Drug-Free Communities Support Program, which funds community-based youth substance abuse prevention programs. The budget calls both programs “duplicative of other Federal programs.” The budget is a “passback” draft: it was cleared by the White House budget office last week, but will still need to be approved by Congress.
On the campaign trail, Trump promised to “spend the money” to address the opioid epidemic, but his proposed budgets and policies thus far would drastically cut federal funding to tackle the issue. The Republican health care bill passed by the House of Representatives on Thursday would cause an estimated 3 million Americans to lose some or all of their addiction treatment coverage.
The president tapped New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in March to lead an opioid commission, which reports to Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. The commission’s purpose is to draft priorities and recommendations for future policies, but critics say that it wastes precious time, given that the surgeon general’s office in the Obama administration published a similar report last November. As one Democratic congressional staffer said last month, “How many more people will die of opioid overdose while they’re pretending to care?”
In an email to his staff, acting ONDCP director Richard Baum wrote:
I have been encouraged by the Administration’s commitment to addressing the opioid epidemic, and the President’s personal engagement on the issue, both during the campaign and since he was sworn into office. However, OMB’s proposed cuts are also at odds with the fact that the President has tasked us with supporting his Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.
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.
I don’t want to see this happen.