Whitehouse, Reed challenge Trump’s proposed cuts to agency fighting opioid crisis

U.S. SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE, in a May 6 statement, spoke against the Trump administration's proposed funding cuts to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the lead federal agency focused on fighting the opioid drug crisis, saying,
U.S. SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE, in a May 6 statement, spoke against the Trump administration's proposed funding cuts to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the lead federal agency focused on fighting the opioid drug crisis, saying, "‎This president campaigned in state after state on promises to tackle the opioid crisis ... it’s sad to see this president walk away.” /COURTESY OFFICE OF U.S. SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE

PROVIDENCE – Members of the Rhode Island congressional delegation weighed in on the Trump administration’s proposed funding cuts to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the lead federal agency focused on fighting the opioid drug crisis. Both U.S. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack F. Reed spoke on the Senate floor on the afternoon of May 25, to discuss the impact of opioid addictions in Rhode Island, as did several other senators.

Whitehouse, who authored the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act that was enacted last year, issued a statement on May 6, saying, “‎This president campaigned in state after state on promises to tackle the opioid crisis. Then he proposed massive cuts to public health funding and pushed a repeal of Obamacare that would strip millions of substance-abuse coverage. Now he’s going after the national drug policy office. In Congress, we passed the bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act to forge a unified front in this fight, and it’s sad to see this president walk away.”

The proposed budget would decrease funding by 95 percent, with funding of only $24 million for the office for fiscal year 2018, which received $388 million for FY 2017. A draft statement from the Executive Office of the President asserts that reduced resources reflect “a smaller, more streamlined organization that can more effectively address drug-control issues. The 2018 budget also eliminates a number of grant programs administered by ONDCP, including the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program and the Drug-Free Communities Support Program, which are duplicative of other efforts across the federal government and supplant state and local responsibilities.

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In his May 15 letter to President Donald Trump, U.S. Rep. David N. Cicilline wrote, in part, “Our country is in the midst of a staggering drug-overdose epidemic that is devastating families and communities across the country. In 2014, almost 2 million Americans abused or were dependent on prescription opioids and as many as 1,000 people are treated for misusing prescription opioids every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

His letter continued, “The Office of National Drug Control Policy fills a critical need … and has valuable knowledge of the history and extent of our country’s drug crisis … Gutting the ONDCP’s budget, cutting staff and losing the agency’s historical knowledge would hobble the federal government’s ability to maximize response to the drug overdose crisis … You rightfully made combating the opioid-overdose epidemic a centerpiece of your 2016 campaign. To cut off funding to the main office tasked with this exact goal would not only be shortsighted, but would also undermine your pledge to the American people.  We strongly urge you to reconsider proposed cuts to the Office of National Drug Control Policy and recommit necessary resources to battling the drug addiction and overdose crisis.”

Reed’s May 23 statement called the Trump administration’s proposed budget “bad news for Rhode Island … The Trump budget takes a less-is-more approach: less investment in education, health care … This irresponsible budget would be a real setback for middle-class families and seniors in particular. The $800 billion in Medicaid cuts could cause over 10 million low-income Americans to lose their health coverage. If this budget were enacted, more elderly Americans could be forced to go from assisted living to living on the streets. That is immoral and ill-advised.”

While not specifically addressing the ONDCP, U.S. Rep. James R. Langevin’s May 23 statement said, in part, “In March, President Trump released a budget outline that I strongly condemned for its drastic cuts to programs that help everyday Americans. Unfortunately, the president’s full budget proposal continues these harmful policies by gutting programs that invest in our economy, create jobs and provide crucial assistance to families across the country. This proposal slashes funding for several programs that … are not mere luxuries, but programs that make meaningful differences in the lives of Rhode Islanders.”

In July, President Barack Obama signed into law Whitehouse’s Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which established a range of policies to prevent and treat addiction to opioid drugs, including programs to increase education on drug use, expand medication-assisted treatment, improve prescription-drug monitoring programs, support those in recovery and promote comprehensive state responses to the opioid crisis.

In Rhode Island in 2016, 330 people lost their lives to overdoses – more than the number of those killed in homicides, suicides and car accidents combined; up from the 280 individuals so affected in 2015.

Nancy Kirsch is a PBN contributing writer.

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