Trump Does Not Take The Opioid Epidemic Seriously
February 6, 2018
“After promising to tackle the opioid epidemic, Trump has yet to take any meaningful action, and has only made things worse. On top of a year-long campaign to gut Medicaid, Trump has now turned his attention to gutting his own drug policy office – tasked with fighting this epidemic – sidelining experts and proposing even more funding cuts. It is clear Trump does not take this crisis seriously. Those suffering from opioid addiction need real action, not more empty words.” – DNC spokesperson Daniel Wessel
Politico: Kellyanne Conway’s 'opioid cabinet' sidelines drug czar’s experts
In Trump's White House, political appointees take control as the opioid epidemic rages.
By Brianna Ehley and Sarah Karlin-Smith
President Donald Trump’s war on opioids is beginning to look more like a war on his drug policy office.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway has taken control of the opioids agenda, quietly freezing out drug policy professionals and relying instead on political staff to address a lethal crisis claiming about 175 lives a day. The main response so far has been to call for a border wall and to promise a “just say no” campaign.
Trump is expected to propose massive cuts this month to the “drug czar” office, just as he attempted in last year’s budget before backing off. He hasn’t named a permanent director for the office, and the chief of staff was sacked in December. For months, the office’s top political appointee was a 24-year-old Trump campaign staffer with no relevant qualifications. Its senior leadership consists of a skeleton crew of three political appointees, down from nine a year ago.
“It’s fair to say the ONDCP has pretty much been systematically excluded from key decisions about opioids and the strategy moving forward,” said a former Trump administration staffer, using shorthand for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which has steered federal drug policy since the Reagan years.
The office’s acting director, Rich Baum, who had served in the office for decades before Trump tapped him as the temporary leader, has not been invited to Conway’s opioid cabinet meetings, according to his close associates. His schedule, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, included no mention of the meetings. Two political appointees from Baum’s office, neither of whom are drug policy experts, attend on the office’s behalf, alongside officials from across the federal government, from HHS to Defense. A White House spokesperson declined to disclose who attends the meetings, and Baum did not respond to a request for comment, although the White House later forwarded an email in which Baum stressed the office's central role in developing national drug strategy.
The upheaval in the drug policy office illustrates the Trump administration’s inconsistency in creating a real vision on the opioids crisis. Trump declared a public health emergency at a televised White House event and talked frequently about the devastating human toll of overdoses and addiction. But critics say he hasn’t followed through with a consistent, comprehensive response.