On Friday, January 19, Eric Hargan, the Acting Secretary for Health and Human Services announced the extension of “public health emergency” due to opioid addiction. It is not clear what impact the declaration, and the President’s earlier declaration has had. It allows some flexibility in the allocation of some funds in some programs, but it does not add any additional dollars or other resources such as personnel to address the issue.
Against the backdrop of an extension are reports that the Administration’s next budget (FY 2019) will propose a 95 percent cut in the budget for the Office of Drug Control Policy. The office, sometimes referred to as the “Drug Czar” was created in 1988 and according to its website, “ONDCP coordinates the drug control activities and related funding of 16 Federal Departments and Agencies.” The Office that has existed since President Ronald Reagan and is supposed to be able to reach across the various cabinet departments and various agencies to coordinate a national strategy from prevention to treatment to enforcement.
Such cuts would also come against the increasing controversy of reports that the Office is being run by Deputy Chief of Staff Taylor Weyeneth, an official whose qualifications appear to be that he worked on the President’s campaign shortly after graduating from college that year. Part of his rapid rise is due to a series of departures by senior staff and a failure to fill the political vacancies by the Trump Administration. His status and resume are now being questioned by some publications and members of the Senate.
The last appointee to the office, Congressman Tom Marino (R-PA) withdrew his nomination after news reports about his prime role in getting legislation passed to limit some of the DEA’s authority in restricting pharmaceutical drug distribution.