Trump budget might starve White House 'drug czar' office of funds

"I think the president's been extremely clear [that drug abuse] is a top priority for him," spokeswoman Huckabee Sanders said Friday.
By Doug G. Ware  |  May 5, 2017 at 6:23 PM
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May 5 (UPI) -- After repeated promises to help Americans overcome substance abuse problems, President Donald Trump may now be planning to effectively starve the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy of its vital operating funds.

According to sources and an interoffice memorandum, Trump's budget proposal would strip the office of 95 percent of its federal funding -- slashing the agency's operating budget from nearly $400 million this year to just $24 million in fiscal 2018.

Such a funding cut would eliminate nearly half the so-called "drug czar" personnel -- 33 jobs -- as well as its vital research and intelligence capabilities. A number of programs and grants -- including the Model State Drug Laws, High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) and Drug-free Communities Support programs -- would also be shaken by such a cut.

The dramatic reduction in funds was contained in what's known as a "passback" document from the Office of Management and Budget, which uploaded the memo to its MAX Collect budget database.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy, created in 1982 under President Ronald Reagan, is responsible for managing the executive branch's anti-drug efforts and coordinating with state and local authorities to those ends.

The office provides funds for task forces in 49 of the 50 states and, proponents say, provide a critical function in fighting top-level drug operators and conducting intensive narcotics investigations.

On both the campaign trail and in the White House, Trump has repeatedly pledged to support and help Americans with substance abuse issues. Last month, he created a presidential commission to address opioid dependence and has continually vowed to give alcoholics and addicts access to effective treatments.

"These drastic proposed cuts are frankly heartbreaking," acting ONDCP Director Richard Baum wrote in an email to employees Friday. "If carried out, [they] would cause us to lose many good people who contribute greatly to [our] mission and core activities. I don't want to see this happen."

The White House suggested to CBS News Friday that the proposed budget cuts are still in the early stages.

"The budget process is a complex one with many moving parts. It would be premature for us to comment -- or anyone to report -- on any aspect of this ever-changing, internal discussion before the publication of the document," the White House statement said. "The President and his cabinet are working collaboratively to create a leaner, more efficient government that does more with less of tax payers' hard-earned dollars."

Though Baum himself acknowledged the potential cuts, Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders appeared to refute the possibility -- first reported by Politico -- during the White House press briefing Friday.

"Look, my first piece of advice would never be to use Politico for a source," she said, filling in for press secretary Sean Spicer. "But, in terms of when it comes to the opioid epidemic, I think the president's been extremely clear this is a top priority for him."

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