Two interesting items crossed my desk today. First, the National Governors Association (NGA) has released its 2018 list of recommendations to address addiction in America, calling for federal support on a number of initiatives. Meanwhile, Politico reports that President Donald Trump has proposed to substantially cut funding for programs developed to combat addiction.
Specifically, Trump is planning to reduce the budget of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) at a time when the office doesn’t have a director and its appointed deputy chief of staff is being criticized for having virtually no experience in the healthcare field, much less the addiction treatment field. Amounting to $340 million, the cuts would equal 95% of ONDCP’s budget.
Additionally, the proposal would move the office’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program to the Department of Justice, and everything under the Drug Free Communities Act would move to the Department of Health and Human Services.
By contrast, NGA recommends just the opposite—enhancing ONDCP and HIDTA:
“The role of HIDTA should be expanded to allow for it to provide more robust assistance to state and local law enforcement led prevention efforts.”
Previous attempts by the Trump administration to cut funding for ONDCP were met with heavy resistance and ultimately were abandoned. If the current proposal moves forward, stakeholders are concerned that HIDTA and other initiatives would get lost in the machinery of bigger departments and their prominence would dwindle.
Consider the optics, too. Moving HIDTA to the Department of Justice no doubt will advance the perception that the Trump administration is looking for greater reliance on law enforcement to address addiction—potentially at the expense of prevention and treatment. The “war on drugs” mentality has long been criticized by leaders in behavioral health as detrimental.
In looking at policy discussions within the past year, some stakeholders conclude that Trump’s support is taking the form of vacillating sound bites rather than real-world action.
Observers also are telling me that the public health emergency he declared for the opioid crisis—now coming up on its 90-day expiration date—has produced zero results. Tough to say if it will be renewed or if there’s any point in doing so.
On top of that, many are wondering if any of the recommendations produced by the president’s own commission on opioids will ever see the light of day. In fact, the commission has been disbanded, so it’s hard to say who might champion its ideas, if anyone.
Maybe the ONDCP budget cuts will fizzle, and nothing will change. But the bigger question remains whether today’s status quo surrounding the nation’s addiction crisis will be as good as it gets.