Updated March 21, 2017
The Office of National Drug Control Policy was on a list of programs that President Donald Trump could remove to cut budget spending, according to a report by The New York Times. But the Trump administration’s proposed budget for 2018, released on March 16, did not include the anti-drug program, suggesting it survived elimination.
Kevin Sabet, president of the anti-marijuana legalization organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana, applauded the decision to save the ONDCP.
“This office is doing meaningful work to combat the opioid overdose epidemic, prevent drug use among youth, and dismantle drug trafficking organizations,” Sabet said in a statement. “We’re glad that the administration is acknowledging the serious effects of drug use in our country by supporting an office that prioritizes public health and prevention.”
If Congress approves the budget, programs to be eliminated include the Legal Services Corporation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities and the Appalachian Regional Commission, a nonprofit that had supported opioid-prevention research in the past.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy was created by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, which authorized various educational and research programs and also set harsher civil sanctions for drug users.
A part of the Executive Office of the President, the agency oversees the federal government’s anti-drug programs. It aims to reduce drug manufacturing, trafficking and use. It also works to prevent crime and health problems associated with drug use.
The ONDCP director is tasked with forming the National Drug Control Strategy, which directs the country’s drug prevention efforts. The strategy creates a program, a budget and guidelines for cooperation among federal, state and local groups.
Former ONDCP director Michael Botticelli told the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that the agency under the Obama administration changed how Americans approach issues of substance use and addiction.
“While we still have some ways to go, there is general consensus across political stripes, with public health and public safety, that this is a health issue,” he said.
The Office of Management and Budget’s reported plans to remove the ONDCP may contrast with the White House’s goals, according to CBS News. Sources told the news agency that former New Hampshire Congressman Frank Guinta is being considered to head the office, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie may run a drug task force.
So far, the White House has not said much about the future of the ONDCP. But the office’s description has been removed from the White House website since Trump’s inauguration.
More than 70 medical and drug policy groups joined forces to draft a letter opposing the elimination of the ONDCP after the Times’ report was released. Organizations such as Addiction Policy Forum, Smart Approaches to Marijuana and People Advocating Recovery signed off on the message.
According to the letter, the ONDCP serves a critical role in:
“At a time when drugs now kill more people than firearms or car crashes, it is more important than ever for ONDCP to remain a strong voice in the White House and a visible presence nationally,” the letter stated.
In an opinion piece published on the political website The Hill, Christopher R. Poulos, executive director of Life of Purpose at the University of North Texas, talked about the importance of the ONDCP in combating the drug epidemic. He said that the agency has increased compassion for people seeking treatment, decreased stigma associated with drug use and has encouraged people to seek treatment.
He suggested that the cost of addiction on society exceeds the cost of continuing to operate the ONDCP.
“At a time when our nation is losing hundreds of people per day to a drug epidemic, eliminating ONDCP is unconscionable,” Poulos wrote.
Opioids were involved in more than 33,000 deaths in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heroin use among people aged 18 to 25 has more than doubled in the past decade. From 2014 to 2015, overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone increased by 72 percent.