For the last few years federal politicians, local officials, and addiction advocates have spoken a great deal about the critical condition of the opioid crisis in America. Just a few months ago President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency, and his administration had created a special White House Opioid Commission to do extensive research and community outreach to try and better understand the problem and offer possible solutions.
Now recent reports state that President Donald Trump is actually planning to cut the budget of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) just happens to be the top office responsible for coordinating the federal response to the opioid crisis. This plan is being noted as his administration’s second attempt to gut the ONDCP, so how would this change the current system?
What is the Plan?
So what does this mean? If President Trump were to go forward with this proposal, it would shift the office’s two main grant programs. These are:
- The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas grant
- The Drug Free Communities Act
According to POLITICO, multiple sources in the administration and others working with the government on the opioid crisis said those resources would then be given respectively to:
- The Justice Department
- Health and Human Services Department
According to a document from the Office of Management and Budget, this proposal would cut 95% of the ONDCP’s budget. Officials in President Trumps administration say that the approximately $340 million in grants will be administered by larger agencies. But the ONDCP will still serve as the White House’s drug policy shop. But the ONDCP will still be the main resource for President Trump for drug policy.
According to the proposal, President Trump and his administration believe these programs are just duplicates of other initiatives. This cut would also result in the ONDCP losing up to 33 employees. Skeptics say taking these resources leaves the policy office with little power or purpose.
Some Support President Trump Plan
Not everyone believes this is a bad idea. Some advocacy organizations are cautiously optimistic that changes to the ONDCP could actually end up being a good thing. One of them is the Drug Policy Alliance. They believe the opioid epidemic has continued to get worse under the ONDCP, and that maybe a shift in perspective is necessary to make a difference.
Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance states,
“The reality is that ONDCP is an agency in dire need of reform,”
Smith believes that the particular grant programs mentioned previously “are a phenomenal waste of money that contribute to the incarceration and stigmatization of drug users.”
They are also afraid President Trump would use a more powerful Drug Czar to aggressively treat drug abuse as a criminal justice issue rather than as a public health problem. If so, it might be a good idea to take the power of these grants out of the executive branch’s control.
Some believe the ONDCP won’t be particularly helpful for the future of drug policy due to some of the organizations part positions, such as denying medical use of marijuana or encouraging the expansion of workplace drug testing. There have been stories questioning the 24-year-old deputy chief of staff President Trump appointed to head the ONDCP. Some see having an individual with no drug policy experience running this important agency as an indication of inconsistnecy.
Supporters of moving the grants and cutting the ONDCP say it would decrease overlap since the DOJ already works on drug trafficking and HHS also has substance use prevention. This may not be the worst assumption either, considering that President Trump and his administration have touted a law-and-order approach that has many concerned about further stigmatizing and punishing those in need of help.
An OMB spokesperson stated,
“DOJ and HHS are both major grant management organizations that can look holistically at allocations across law enforcement and drug prevention and treatment resources.”
So some are hopeful it could just put the grants under a different roof. But critics say these programs are working, and it is hazardous to try and dramatically restructure them at such a desperate time.
Other Republicans Rebuke the Plan
Health policy experts, lawmakers, and even fellow Republicans are unhappy with this latest proposal. Some even say this is just one example of a series of actions showing that President Trump’s administration isn’t serious about addressing the opioid epidemic.
Last year the White House Office of Management and Budget proposed completely cutting these grants. However, that proposal was met with intense resistance from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers. Now, health experts and officials from both sides are speaking out against this plan. Regina LaBelle, who served as ONDCP Chief of Staff during the Obama administration, states:
“I’m baffled at the idea of cutting the office or reducing it significantly and taking away its programs in the middle of an epidemic,”
Many are already expecting lawmakers to push back again against this plan from President Trump.
Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito from West Virginia, a state ravaged by opioids, told POLITICO she will “resist that move”. Capito also says she believes the grants should be kept at ONDCP. This would keep them within the executive branch and under the president’s purview.
Republican Senator Rob Portman from Ohio, another state that has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic, said he also plans to fight back against the proposed cuts. Portman says the anti-drug programs the administration wants to cut have done an immense amount of good in Ohio.
Going Against Opioid Commission
President Trump established the White House Opioid Commission to make recommendations on addressing the opioid crisis. Now even advisors on this panel are saying this new move goes against the opioid commission’s recommendations.
Former Representative Patrick Kennedy, a member of the opioid advisory commission, said the panel advised President Trump to fortify the ONDCP, not defund it. The opioid commission had also endorsed both of these grants as crucial to overall response efforts. Kennedy went on to say,
“It guts the two main purposes of ONDCP… It really undermines the mission.”
So there are those that think changing the ONDCP could be a necessary sacrifice to make progress. However, others are concerned that it is not the right move, and definitely not the right time.
We should note that the proposal from President Trump is subject to change. There is still more time to learn about how moving money from the Office of National Drug Control Policy could impact the governments work against the opioid crisis. Could this change refine the process of accessing these grants? Or could it cripple an important agency for fighting addiction during of one of the country’s worst drug outbreaks? Hopefully, these changes can be managed in a way that creates new opportunities instead of removing them.
Providing support and life-saving resources is vital to overcoming addiction. Every day people are struggling with drug or alcohol use disorders, and some of them never find the help they need. Safe and effective addiction treatment is one of the best tools we have. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now. We want to help.
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In the wake of all the turmoil created by the white nationalist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia this month the conversation on oppression, cultural tension and systematic racism has become unavoidable. With counter-protesters in large numbers present to oppose the white nationalist factions, violence eventually erupted. In the end there were 3 dead, at least 19 reportedly injured and a community in chaos.
From the moment the incident turned volatile everyone from every day citizens, to celebrities and activists, to democrats and republicans have spoken out about the atrocities of that day. Outrage and discourse has followed in every form, with some disgusted to see white supremacists chanting Nazi slogans walking with KKK members and heavily armed militia down a street in the heart of America.
While many voices with varying degrees of contempt have been heard, one Drug Policy Alliance director is using hers to make a connection between the ideology of white supremacy and the failed War on Drugs.
The Drug Policy Alliance
For some background on the Drug Policy Alliance, it is an organization committed to helping influence national drug policy reform. The DPA emphasizes the need to have drug policies on the use and regulation of drugs that are based on science, compassion, health and human rights.
According to the DPA, the drug war in America has produced ‘profoundly unequal outcomes across racial groups’. Much of this inequality is said to stem from the disproportionate and devastating impact of the War on Drugs in communities of color, fueled by racial discrimination by law enforcement.
Despite the fact that drug use and drug trafficking rates are comparable across all races, the DPA states that compared to white Americans in drug law violations, people of color are far more likely to be:
Statistics on the DPA website state that African Americans:
- Only make up 14% of regular drug users
- Yet they make up 37% of those arrested for drug offenses
War on Drugs and Racism
By now the idea that the War on Drugs has had an unjust impact on minority communities is nothing new. Some may argue these points, but for many years researchers from all over the country have done the due diligence before deciding to speak out against the racial element to the failed War on Drugs.
It has been proven the majority of drug users in the United States are white, and yet African Americans are the largest group being targeted with arrests and charges of possession. This alone has been enough to convince many advocates that white supremacy, whether you want to argue intentional or subconscious, has played a part in the War on Drugs and how it has damaged the country. America’s drug war enforces some of the most controversial pieces of legislation and drug policy, including:
- Mandatory minimum penalties
- Stop-and-frisk searches
Both of these concepts have faced frequent opposition for effecting minorities disproportionately.
The War on Drugs doesn’t just damage individual lives. It harms African-American communities as a whole. Social scientists still assert that the War on Drugs could not be maintained without societal racism and the manipulation of racial stereotypes. Even a former aide to President Nixon, who began the War on Drugs in the 80s, has suggested that the War on Drugs was racially and politically motivated.
DPA VS Trump Administration
Megan Farrington, one of the directors of the Drug Policy Agency (DPA) has taken a firm stance on the subject following the President’s comments last Tuesday regarding the tragic events that sparked division and outrage over the past few weeks. In her comments Farrington calls out those responsible for shaping drug policy today, while condemning the archaic strategies that many say have helped bring the issue to where it is today.
President Donald Trump responded to the Charlottesville tragedy with comments insisting we should place blame on ‘both sides’ during a statement that has become widely criticized and caused a great deal of contention among politicians and everyday people alike. Those who are outraged at the President’s comments claim his statements seem to sound like the words of a ‘nazi/white nationalist apologist’, while others insist that because the counter-protestors fought back, they are to blame as well.
Following the President’s statement, DPA director Farrington tweeted:
“There is no ‘both sides’ to racial hatred, nothing ambiguous about white supremacy. We will continue to fight for justice and against hate.”
During her engagement in the debate, Farrington went a step further than refuting the President’s claims; she called out the entire system for a failed War on Drugs as part of the problem with racial oppression, stating:
“The drug war is a tool of racial oppression. When white supremacists chant Nazi slogans and our president defends them, we have to speak out. If we fight the racism inherent in the drug war but allow it to go unchecked elsewhere, our work may take down one tool only to see it replaced with another.”
It wasn’t just Karrington who went on the offensive after the Charlottesville incident or the president’s comments. The DPA’s senior director of national affairs, Bill Piper, also chimed in on the action, condemning not only the president’s statement, but also Jeff Sessions, the administration’s controversial attorney general. While the piece from Piper called out Trump and Bannon, the focal point of the fury was aimed at Sessions and his past controversy regarding race. Piper states:
“Sessions has a long record of hostility to justice and civil liberties… He was denied a federal judgeship in the 80s because the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee found that he had a record of racist statements and actions. A black colleague testified at the time that Sessions referred to him as ‘boy.’ Sessions referred to the NAACP and other civil rights organizations as un-American groups that ‘forced civil rights down the throats of people.’ He even reportedly said he thought the KKK was ‘OK’ until he found out its members smoked pot.”
This isn’t the only reason people like Piper are upset about Sessions. Only six months into his position as US Attorney General, Sessions has already started back-tracking drug policy to recapture the drug war days. Attorney General Sessions has already urged law enforcement to pursue stricter sentences in drug cases and increased the use of civil asset forfeiture.
Race Should Not Matter in Recovery
While opinions still clash over the idea that race played a huge part in the implementation of the War on Drugs, and many will continue to insist that white supremacy has never influenced drug policy, others are not so sure. Piper adds in his statement:
“The role the drug war, and punitive criminal justice policies more generally, play in perpetuating white supremacy should be at the top of the list. At the very least, policymakers who ignore the issue should be seen as suspect. Racial justice requires massive criminal justice reform.”
Either way we look at it though, the War on Drugs has failed us for many reasons. It was far too expensive for the devastating results it has yielded. It reinforced stigma against drug use and those struggling with addiction. And most experts agree that it had a disproportionate impact on minority communities. Even if we ignore the conclusions of researchers advocating for minorities, we should all be able to see that overall the drug war has been a tool of oppression, not transformation.
Much like discrimination and racism, overcoming substance use and addiction begins with raising awareness and being open to compassionate conversation. Recovery, both personal and as a community, begins with acceptance and working together. Palm Healthcare Company is committed to working with every walk of life in every community to try and inspire transformation that can save a life, and change the world. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now.
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