On the News

Under Trump, An ‘Unsteady’ Antidrug Campaign

President Donald Trump on Thursday expressed support for people facing drug addiction in proclaiming National Substance Abuse Prevention Month and renewed his “unyielding commitment to breaking the grip of alcohol and drug addiction.” That was two days after he mocked Joe Biden’s son’s history of drug addiction during the presidential debate. The contradicting sentiments are reflected in the way the administration has responded to the drug crisis, with its irregular commitment exemplified by the unsteady performance of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the Washington Post reports. Trump has run the office showing skepticism, ambivalence and a lack of focus, say government audits, documents and drug policy specialists. ONDCP employees have cycled out and failed to marshal a cohesive and measurable anti-drug plan. It served as a way station for political appointees.

For most of Trump’s administration, the office has not delivered on an annual strategy to guide more than a dozen federal agencies and hundreds of billions of dollars in spending. With opioid deaths surging during the pandemic to their highest level in five years, critics say the office is falling short again. Lawrence “Chip” Muir, acting chief of staff in 2017, said ONDCP faced daunting odds early on because of the opioids epidemic. The White House marginalized the office and did not follow through on other efforts. Muir said ONDCP should have done more to help drug abusers, doctors, hospitals and others during the pandemic. Josh Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice at Johns Hopkins University, gave the ONDCP’s coronavirus response a “middling” grade. Some measures were helpful, such as allowing people in treatment not to make in-person visits to get buprenorphine to treat addiction. An ONDCP spokesperson stood by its record, citing achievements that encompass the administration’s focus on drug use prevention, treatment and recovery.