President Trump recently ordered the White House bathed in blue light to honor the nation’s law enforcement officers. Now, as Washington, D.C., hosts “National Police Week,” Trump should build upon that welcome gesture by saving the vital Office of National Drug Control Policy from the budget ax.
The ONDCP, as it’s known, distributes millions of dollars in grants in Minnesota and other states to fund community drug abuse prevention programs and aid law enforcement efforts to thwart drug trafficking. A budget document made public this month suggested that the Trump administration is considering cutting the office’s funding from $364 million to $24 million. The ONDCP’s fate is among the urgent concerns that Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek and other officers visiting the nation’s capital are relaying to Congress and other policymakers during National Police Week.
Stanek, interviewed this week in Washington, said the ONDCP and the ongoing need for it has come up at many meetings. The message from officers like him: It is “shortsighted … to lay out a proposal like this in light of the crisis going on with opioids around the country.”
Stanek, who has sounded the alarm repeatedly about the abuse of prescription opioid painkillers, is exactly right. The nation is in the midst of a public health scourge of addiction and overdose deaths. This is not the time for a 93 percent cut to an office that has long been on the front lines of battling this epidemic.
Nationally, more than 2 million people are estimated to be addicted to opioids, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Tragically, many who use these legal painkillers — sold under names like OxyContin — become dependent. Some turn to the cheaper street-drug heroin that delivers a similar high. Between 2002 and 2015, annual overdose deaths linked to these drugs’ use nearly tripled, rising to more than 33,000 people.
Sadly, Minnesotans are among those swept up in this epidemic. Of 572 drug overdose deaths in Minnesota in 2015, 330 were attributed to legal or illegal opioid drugs, according to a state health department report. “Drug overdose deaths in Minnesota have more than quadrupled in the past 15 years, the report showed, but those involving prescription or illicit opioids increased tenfold,” according to a Star Tribune analysis of the report.
The ONDCP has been around since 1988 and has had the support of both Republican and Democratic presidential administrations. Its role in coordinating drug-control policies across multiple federal agencies and its responsiveness to emerging threats has won it wide respect from experts such as Minnesota’s Carol Falkowski, a nationally-known drug researcher.
Grants administered through the agency also play a critical role in Minnesota in fighting addiction and drug dealers. Stanek said funding to fight “high-intensity drug trafficking areas” is helping Hennepin County officials share information and coordinate with other law enforcement across the region.
In addition, Minnesota has benefited from Drug-Free Communities Support Program grants, administered through the ONDCP. A northern Minnesota grantee, called the Hubbard in Prevention Coalition, has created and supported drug abuse prevention programs in Hubbard County. The funding has “been an important supportive tool in the community helping change the behavior, culture and environment in which our families and youth live,” said Angela Graham, grant coordinator with St. Joseph’s Area Health Services in Park Rapids.
President Trump won many voters’ support, especially in rural areas, with his pledges to solve the opioid epidemic. He should keep that promise by strengthening, not gutting, the ONDCP.