Trump proposal threatens future of ONDCP | Behavioral Healthcare Executive Skip to content Skip to navigation

Trump proposal threatens future of ONDCP

January 19, 2018
by Julie Miller, Editor in Chief
| Reprints

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.




The proposed budget cuts for the ONDCP are designed to reduce redundancies and overlapping services among Federal agencies. Effectiveness is more easily achieved when authority and responsibility are consolidated and inter-agency conflicts are eliminated.

The ONDCP has existed since 1988, and has little to show for the 30 years of massive expenditures. It has had its chance to demonstrate effectiveness and worthiness for additional funding, and has fallen short. Who is it that would continue doing the same thing, while expecting different results? The need for change is overwhelmingly apparent.

The "budget cut" is more appropriately described as a reallocation of funding. Two of the ONDCP's programs are being reassigned to the Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Health and Human Services (HHS). The programs are not being eliminated. The programs and the associated funding are being transferred to two very powerful Departments. In this manner these existing programs will have greater resources and legal authority than ever before. Efforts to resolve the opioid problem are in dire need of change. Doing what we have been doing for thirty years without success is unlikely to achieve that.

Appointing the authority, responsibility and funding to the DOJ and the HHS brings a fresh expectation of desparately needed change.

Julie Miller

Editor in Chief

Julie Miller


Julie Miller has more than 14 years of experience observing, analyzing and reporting on various...

The opinions expressed by Behavioral Healthcare Executive bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone and are not meant to reflect the opinions of the publication.