Donald Trump's drug czar: President 'committed' to battling opioid epidemic

Richard Baum
  • President Trump hit the ground running when he took office.
  • Richard Baum is the acting director of National Drug Control Policy.

Re: "Why the United States needs a national drug policy," by Dr. Stephen Patrick.

Editor’s note: When Dr. Patrick originally wrote his op-ed in May, he was responding to news coverage of then-alleged forthcoming budget cuts. The Tennessean published Dr. Patrick’s op-ed in July and Acting Director Baum wrote his response shortly after the Tennessean published it.

As the acting director of National Drug Control Policy, I felt compelled to respond to the well-intentioned but inaccurate op-ed The Tennessean ran on July 11. 

The rate of hospitalizations for Tennesseans 65 years and older due to painkillers has more than tripled in a decade.

Dr. Stephen Patrick, assistant professor of pediatrics and health policy at Vanderbilt University, wrote a passionate defense of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the federal government’s work to address drug use and substance use disorder.

I couldn’t agree more that ONDCP plays a vital role in leading and coordinating the federal government’s work on the drug problem, and that our national drug policy must focus on prevention and expanding access to treatment. 

We are in the midst of the worst drug epidemic in American history, with more than 52,000 people dying from drug overdoses in 2015. Preventing drug use from beginning in the first place is critical to preventing the opioid epidemic from getting worse, and so is connecting people to the treatment they need. In 2015, 76 percent of people who needed treatment for a substance use disorder didn’t seek it. 

Dr. Patrick and I agree that this must be addressed — and that’s exactly what the Trump administration is doing. 

► Read More:Why the United States needs a national drug policy

► Read More:Multistate effort launched to address opioid epidemic

President Donald Trump hit the ground running when he took office. In March, the White House established the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, which is looking at the epidemic with fresh eyes to make sure the federal government is doing everything it can to address this crisis. The commission’s final report is expected in October.

Richard Baum

In April, the administration sent nearly $500 million in new funding out to the states to address the epidemic locally, including more than $13.8 million to Tennessee. This is a national crisis but its symptoms show up in our communities — in our hospitals, jails, schools and neighborhoods, so it’s critical that we work to address the crisis on the local level, and this federal funding will help our communities do this.

And at ONDCP, we are working hard on the president’s first National Drug Control Strategy, which will come out early next year. 

Since President Trump named me as ONDCP’s acting director, I’ve engaged with people in communities across the country, including parents affected by this epidemic, local law enforcement, public health and first responders, and state and local leaders.

Last week I saw Vermont’s hub-and-spoke treatment model in action, which is making it easier for people to access the treatment they need closer to home, and I spoke to more than half of the country’s governors about what we need to do as a country to address this epidemic. 

The important actions I’ve listed all happened because President Trump is committed to addressing this crisis, and that includes utilizing ONDCP’s skills and expertise. This is an important point to make because Dr. Patrick’s op-ed mischaracterized the Trump administration’s plan for ONDCP and, by extension, our national drug policy. 

Contrary to Dr. Patrick’s claim, the president’s fiscal year 2018 budget request to Congress does not call for drastically cutting ONDCP’s budget — the president requested more than $368 million for ONDCP, including the highest-ever amounts for our two grant programs, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) and Drug-Free Communities (DFC) programs, which work to reduce the supply and demand for drugs in communities across the country, including here in Tennessee. 

The Trump administration knows how serious this crisis is and is working hard to address it. I appreciate Dr. Patrick standing up for ONDCP and a strong national drug control policy. Ending this epidemic will take everyone working together.

Richard Baum is the acting director of National Drug Control Policy.