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Conway freezing out experts, relying on political staff in drug policy office: report

White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayHatch mocks Warren over DNA test with his own results showing '1/1032 T-Rex' Conway responds to Warren DNA test: 'Junk science' that 'really doesn't interest me' Watchdog files Hatch Act complaint against Sanders for picture with Kanye in MAGA hat MORE's work at the administration's opioid abuse policy office has led to policy experts being frozen out of the decision-making process in favor of political appointees, according to a report in Politico.

The news site reports that President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's debate showdown Arpaio files libel suit against New York Times IMF's Christine Lagarde delays trip to Middle East MORE is expected to propose massive budget cuts this year to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) as it struggles to function without a director or chief of staff, who was fired in December.

"It’s fair to say the ONDCP has pretty much been systematically excluded from key decisions about opioids and the strategy moving forward,” a former Trump administration staffer told Politico.

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The agency's acting director, Rich Baum, has not been invited to Conway's opioid cabinet meetings despite serving in the office for decades, Politico reports, and instead two political appointees without any relevant experience attend on his behalf.

One political appointee working on a public education campaign with the office is Andrew Giuliani, the 32-year-old son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), who the White House told Politico has no background in drug policy.

Giuliani, 32, works with the White House Office of Public Liason, a spokesman told The Hill in an email.

Republicans in Congress who represent states hit hardest by the opioid crisis say they are unsure as to what Conway's actual role is at the ONDCP.

“I haven’t talked to Kellyanne at all and I’m from the worst state for this,” said Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Dem path to a Senate majority narrows GOP shrugs off dire study warning of global warming Overnight Health Care — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Senators face Wednesday vote on Trump health plans rule | Trump officials plan downtime for ObamaCare website | Lawmakers push for action on reducing maternal deaths MORE, (R-W.Va.). “I’m uncertain of her role.”

“If I want technical advice, I’m going to work with Baum,” added Rep. Tom MacArthurThomas (Tom) Charles MacArthurOvernight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma — Trump officials move to require drug prices in TV ads | 4,000 more people lose Medicaid in Arkansas | New top official for Medicaid Dems announce third-quarter fundraising bonanza Midterms put GOP centrists in peril MORE (R-N.J.). “If I want to get a message to the president, Kellyanne is somebody that I know I can talk to.”

Opioid deaths surged in 2016, the deadliest year so far of the abuse epidemic. Deaths from drug overdoses related to opiates increased nearly 28 percent, from roughly 33,000 in 2015 to more than 42,200 in 2016.

Amid skyrocketing numbers, former ONDCP officials say the drug policy office is not taking a leading role in addressing the crisis.

“I don’t know what the agency is doing. I really don’t,” said Regina LaBell, the ONDCP's chief of staff under President Obama.

 “They aren’t at the level of visibility you’d think they’d be at by now.”