Nationally and in Maine opiates are killing record numbers of Americans. So it is shocking to see the Office of National Drug Control Policy on the list for possible elimination as the Trump administration looks to cut federal spending.
Eliminating this small and fairly inexpensive office and its programs makes little sense financially or from a humanitarian standpoint.
“There simply won’t be much of a cost saving,” Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who headed the office during the second half of the Clinton administration, told U.S. News & World Report.
“I tell people, find something you don’t like about America and the chances are a major or a contributory cause of it is the consumption of legal or illegal drugs,” McCaffrey added. “So do you want someone who brings together federal efforts into one coherent whole?”
That coherent whole is critical. States like Maine are searching for ways to prevent and treat addiction. The national office not only provides crucial information, coordination and assistance, it sends money from federal agencies to the most promising programs at the state and local levels, including programs related to law enforcement, treatment and prevention.
In 2016, the office coordinated more than $30 billion in federal spending on drug control efforts. There was a significant shift under the Obama administration to focus on treatment and recovery rather in addition to disrupting drug supplies through law enforcement.
Its budget proposal for fiscal year 2017, the last of the Obama administration, for the first time, called for more funding to reduce demand for drugs than is dedicated to reducing supply. The budget proposal called for $1 billion in new spending to expand access to treatment and recovery support for those dealing with opiate use disorder. Most of this money will go to the states based on the severity of their drug problem and their capacity to address it.
The funding was approved as part of a major health and drug research funding bill passed by Congress in December.
The office’s importance goes beyond funding. Because it is part of the White House, the office and its recommendations carry more weight. Other agencies can do its work, but it would be piecemeal and less effective.
“If the administration’s goal is to save money by trimming fat, the office addressing the nation’s drug epidemic is the wrong place to do so,” Christopher Poulos, a University of Maine School of Law graduate and former intern in the office, wrote in a column published this week by The Hill. He is also in long-term recovery from an addiction. “People suffering from addiction and people in recovery are not bad people. We have a treatable health condition and we are worth saving. We do recover.”
The White House Office of Management and Budget is putting together President Trump’s first budget proposal. The office has compiled a long list of programs and offices that could be eliminated to reduce federal spending, as the president has promised — at the same time as he’s called for a 10 percent increase in military spending and a $1 trillion investment in rebuilding U.S. infrastructure.
The OMB list includes perennial Republican targets such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts, The New York Times reported last month. It expects to have a final list of cuts and eliminations later this month.
In his address to Congress Tuesday night, Trump spoke of ending America’s drug epidemic and expanding addiction treatment. The Office of National Drug Policy Control is already doing this work. Its elimination would needlessly set back these efforts.