Bipartisan Senate group opposes cuts to anti-drug office
Senators are urging the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and appropriators in the upper chamber to block major changes to an anti-drug office the Trump administration is reportedly weighing.
Last month, Politico reported that OMB was planning to propose moving two major grants at the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). Under the plan, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area and Drug-Free Communities programs would be moved to the Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services, respectively.
This would lead to a 95 percent cut to the ONDCP as an opioid crisis grips the nation.
“Not only would such action signal to the American public that the Administration is not serious about addressing the drug epidemic that our nation currently faces, but it could also have a devastating effect on programs that have been proven effective,” a bipartisan group of about 12 senators from the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control and Judiciary Committee wrote in a letter to OMB Director Mick Mulvaney on Thursday.
They also sent the letter to Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Christopher Coons (D-Del.), who lead the appropriations subcommittee in charge of ONDCP’s budget. Both senators opposed the possibility of a 95 percent cut last year.
Two GOP lawmakers signed the letter, Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the No. 2 Republican in the upper chamber, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (Iowa). The rest were Democrats.
More than 150 groups have also come out in opposition to the changes.
The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program aims to help coordinate federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement in areas with high drug trafficking. The Drug-Free Communities program is a drug prevention effort that gives money to community coalitions to reduce substance abuse in youth.
“Each of these programs is singularly focused on drugs,” the senators wrote. “Moving them to other agencies without further examination could have negative consequences on local law enforcement and on the overall effectiveness of the programs.”
The epidemic of prescription painkillers and heroin has been hitting the country hard, as opioid overdose deaths continue to rise. The rate of opioid overdose deaths increased 28 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to December data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In late October, President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency, and the administration extended the declaration another 90 days in mid-January.
Many advocates have panned the declaration, however, saying it hasn’t yet lead to much of consequence. They urge more funding to be allocated to curb the crisis, which will seemingly be up for negotiation in a larger spending package.
This story was updated at 6:31 p.m.