Despite insisting on declaring an “opioid epidemic” that his administration would summarily address, President Trump has actually done very little to combat the actual drug crisis that is plaguing the nation. To date the Office of National Drug Control Policy is still without a drug czar, and according to a new Politico report, the White House is looking to significantly slash its budget. Yet the office’s managerial and financial woes aren’t the worst part about, for according to the same report, Kellyanne Conway has taken control of the “opioid cabinet” and is sidelining actual drug policy experts from contributing.
Per Politico, the White House’s primary response to the very crisis it declared “has been to call for a border wall and to promise a ‘just say no’ campaign”:
Much of the White House messaging bolsters the president’s call for a border wall, depicting the opioid epidemic as an imported crisis, not one that is largely home-grown and complex, fueled by both legal but addictive painkillers and lethal street drugs like heroin and fentanyl.
A former Trump White House staffer added, “It’s fair to say the ONDCP has pretty much been systematically excluded from key decisions about opioids and the strategy moving forward.” Rich Baum, the office’s acting director, “has not been invited to Conway’s opioid cabinet meetings.” Nor did his schedule, which Politico obtained thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request, include any “mention of the meetings” Conway and her cabinet were holding. So who actually makes up the group? Two “political appointees” from ONDCP and officials from Homeland Security and the Defense Department. In short, the group is short on people with actual expertise on the opioid front lines.
Among the people working on the public education campaign that Trump promised is Andrew Giuliani, Rudy Giuliani’s 32-year-old son, who is a White House public liaison and has no background in drug policy, multiple administration sources told POLITICO. Nor has Conway spent her career in the anti-opioid trenches.
“Kellyanne Conway is not an expert in this field,” said Andrew Kessler, the founder of Slingshot Solutions, a consulting group that’s worked on substance abuse with many federal agencies.“She may be a political operative and a good political operative,” he added. “But look. When you appoint a secretary of Labor, you want someone with a labor background. When you appoint a secretary of Defense, you want someone with a defense background. The opioid epidemic needs leadership that ‘speaks’ the language of drug policy.”
The set-up befuddles other experts who’ve worked on substance abuse for prior administrations. Fresh ideas are fine, they say. But the drug office has a purpose.
The Politico piece goes on to suggest that perhaps at some point the group will come to the realization that it needs experts participating in it. Let’s all hope so.