The nation and Maine are in the midst of a drug epidemic, which is killing an average of one person per day in Maine. Rather than devote resources and attention to lessening this deadly problem, the Trump administration is again targeting the office that should be leading the national response to the overdose epidemic.
The administration is again proposing to defund the Office of National Drug Control Policy in its 2019 budget proposal, Politico reported last week. It would disperse this money to other federal agencies, including the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services.
Given the scale of the drug epidemic, which killed 64,000 Americans last year, it makes sense to have a federal entity devoted to promoting solutions — with powerful leadership and funding, and the support of the White House.
Instead, the Trump administration has slowly weakened the national office, at a time when a focused, coordinated response is needed to effectively address the opioid epidemic that is costing lives and holding back the U.S. economy.
Having the office under the auspices of the White House “elevates the importance of these programs,” Kevin Sabet, who worked in the office during the Obama, Bush and Clinton administrations, told Politico. “It makes them more visible on the state and local level because it’s not just another program from DOJ or HHS. It’s a program that has the White House’s signature on it.”
In October, the president declared the opioid crisis a “health emergency” but did not call for additional federal funding. A panel Trump had convened to recommend solutions to the crisis called on the president to declare a “national emergency,” which would have started a flow of federal funds to address the crisis
Trump made a mockery of the crisis by saying the federal government would produce “really tough, really big, really great advertising.” Think of the (failed) “Just say no” campaign on steroids championed by former First Lady Nancy Reagan.
“This was an idea that I had, where if we can teach young people not to take drugs,” Trump said at a White House ceremony announcing the emergency declaration, “it’s really, really easy not to take them.”
If it were this simple, millions of Americans wouldn’t be dealing with addictions.
Trump also has failed to install a “drug czar” to oversee the federal response to the opioid crisis.
The president’s first choice for the job, Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pennsylvania, withdrew himself from consideration after The Washington Post and “60 Minutes” focused on legislation he shepherded through Congress that weakened the Drug Enforcement Agency’s power to pursue suspicious and excessive shipments of prescription opioids.
With Marino out of the picture, the Trump administration appointed a 24-year-old former campaign worker as the drug policy office’s deputy chief of staff. Andrew Weyeneth, who had no professional experience before joining the Trump campaign, rose through the ranks, in part, because the office is so understaffed because of turnover and the lack of appointments. Weyeneth, who was also dogged by inconsistencies in his resume, will return to his job as the White House liaison to the drug policy office, an administration official told The Washington Post.
Trump has also ignored the recommendations of a commission on the opioid crisis that he created. The commission, chaired by then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, suggested concrete steps that should be taken now, such as the universal distribution of the anti-overdose drug Narcan to all police officers and expanded access to medication-assisted treatment, which has been found to be the most effective anti-addiction therapy.
These actions highlight the White House’s lack of seriousness in addressing the opioid crisis. The toll is personal and economic. People are dying. Children are losing their parents, and parents are watching their children succumb to addiction.
Millions of men are missing from the U.S. workforce, and employers too often can’t find workers who can pass drug tests.
And the response from the administration is to propose funding cuts and to promote loyalists with no experience to fill critical jobs. It is shameful.
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