The Trump administration may propose to gut the White House “drug czar” by 95 percent, effectively eliminating the decades-old Office of National Drug Control Policy, the lead federal agency responsible for coordinating drug policy, the Washington Post reports. The draft budget plan comes as the nation is struggling with an escalating opioid epidemic. Ending opioid addiction was a centerpiece of the Trump presidential campaign. He drew support from many of the rural areas and small working-class towns hit hardest by the drug crisis. In March, Trump named a new task force to help combat the opioid crisis, tapping New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to lead it. In an email to employees, Richard Baum, acting director of the drug office, said the proposed $364 million cut for the year starting October 1 would leave a budget of just $24 million and eliminate its two major programs.
Baum called the cuts “drastic” and “frankly heartbreaking,” saying they are “at odds with the fact that the President has tasked us with supporting his Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.” About half the staff would be eliminated. “That budget wouldn’t pay the heating bill at the Pentagon,” said Barry McCaffrey, a retired Army general who headed the office under President Bill Clinton between 1996 and 2001. “It sends a terrible message. Why send this bizarre political signal in the middle of what is without question a major health-care crisis in America? It’s very strange.” A coalition representing hundreds of drug prevention, law enforcement and health groups is sending a letter of protest to the White House. The office “brings essential expertise to the table on complex drug issues, expertise that would otherwise be missing or dispersed across multiple agencies,” said the group. “It is more important than ever for ONDCP to remain a strong voice in the White House and a visible presence nationally.” White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said the proposal was not final, telling Fox News Sunday, “I would always tell people, judge President Trump by his actions, not leaked documents and hypotheticals.”