Connecting state and local government leaders

City and County Leaders to Trump: ONDCP Cuts Weaken Response to Opioid Epidemic


Connecting state and local government leaders

The White House appears to be cutting the budget for the Office of National Drug Control Policy by 95 percent—a reduction in funds akin to effective elimination.

Over the course of the 2016 presidential campaign, candidate Donald Trump made the fight against the opioid epidemic one of his regular talking points.

"We're going to work on trying to help the people that are so seriously addicted and we're going to stop the drugs because the best way to get rid of addiction is to not have the drugs," Trump said at an opioid round table discussion in New Hampshire last October.

There’s some indication that statements like that one did resonate strongly with the people most affected by the crisis. A post-election study from Pennsylvania State University showed that Trump performed particularly well in counties with high rates of opioid overdoses.

But, unease is growing over what many see as a widening chasm between then-candidate Trump’s stance on opioids, and the actions taken by the President.

The latest drug-related Trump proposal on the table is prompting state and local officials—many of whom are the “boots on the ground” in the fight against the drug crisis—to add their voices to the discussion.

According to a leaked policy memo, the White House is considering cutting the budget for the Office of National Drug Control Policy by 95 percent—a reduction in funds akin to effective elimination.

Along with its work as a convening and policy-coordinating body, the ONDCP runs two programs that form the backbone of many of the opioid-related efforts at the local level—the Drug-Free Communities Support Program and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program. These initiatives provide funding, resources and guidance to local government entities on a wide range of drug-related issues.

On Thursday, in a letter address to President Trump, representatives from the National Association of Counties and the National League of Cities City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic offered their response to the news that these programs may face elimination:

Throughout our work, ONDCP’s unique value within the federal government has been evident, as the office has served as a single source of expertise on a broad range of drug-related issues, as well as a convener and coordinator of experts at other federal agencies. The Drug Free Communities program and HIDTA, meanwhile, are recognized across the country as pivotal pillars of support for local and regional partnerships that work to decrease the demand for, and the supply of, drugs in our communities. Drug Free Communities programs have had a demonstrated and measurable impact in lowering rates of drug use among youth by helping local leaders partner to develop effective prevention strategies uniquely suited to their communities. The HIDTA program, meanwhile, fosters collaboration between law enforcement agencies at the local, state and federal level to design and implement initiatives that confront the unique drug threats in each area of the country. ...

ONDCP and its grant programs have played a pivotal role in helping to establish and strengthen these partnerships, and weakening these programs would undoubtedly weaken our nation’s resilience and response to the opioid epidemic at a time when communities across the country continue to face unprecedented levels of overdoses and fatalities.

The signatories of the NACo-NLC letter conclude by urging Trump to take steps to strengthen and protect the ONDCP and its programs, rather than cut it.

It should be noted that this isn’t the first time President Trump’s policies seem to run counter to his stated desire to end the opioid epidemic.

For example, one study has found that the Affordable Health Care Act—the Republican repeal strategy for the Affordable Care Act—which Trump himself championed, would cut funding for substance abuse and behavioral health treatment by as much as $5.5 billion a year. Those same researchers, Richard Frank, of Harvard University and Sherry Glied of New York University, also found that if the ACA is repealed as many as 3 million Americans with substance use disorders would lose some or all of their coverage.

And, according to recent reporting by CNN, some substance abuse advocates appear to be losing hope that Donald Trump will deliver on his promise to help those suffering from addiction.

"If he had really asked and listened to anybody close to the issue, they would tell him that he has done everything wrong so far," Dean Lemire, a New Hampshire-based recovery advocate who is in treatment for alcohol and heroin addiction, recently told CNN.

Quinn Libson is a Staff Correspondent for Government Executive’s Route Fifty based in Washington, D.C.

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