'Drug czar' officials excluded from White House opioid response: 6 things to know

The Trump administration's "opioids cabinet" — spearheaded by White House counselor Kellyanne Conway — is systematically excluding chief officials from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, according to a report from Politico.

Here are six things to know.

1. Senior leadership at the ONDCP has experienced significant reductions under President Donald Trump, dropping from nine officials just a year ago to three. For months, a 24-year-old Trump campaign worker with no drug policy expertise served as deputy chief of staff at the ONDCP. At present, the office still lacks a permanent director, a presidential colloquially referred to as "drug czar."

2. Rich Baum, acting drug czar, is not invited to Ms. Conway's opioid cabinet meetings, sources close to Mr. Baum told Politico. While two political appointees from the ONDCP attend the meetings, neither of them are experts on drug policy.

3. Baum, who has served in the ONDCP for decades, did not respond to Politico's request for comment. However, he later stressed ONDCP's importance in developing drug control policy in an email forwarded to the publication by the White House.

4. A former Trump administration staffer told Politico "the ONDCP has pretty much been systematically excluded from key decisions about opioids and the strategy moving forward."

5. Conway recently told Politico her team works across government agencies to "formalize and centralize strategy, coordinate policy, scheduling and public awareness" for the White House opioid effort. These duties are traditionally carried out by the drug czar office, according to the report.

6. Senators from states hard hit by the opioid epidemic have expressed confusion regarding Ms. Conway's role and told Politico they haven't seen outreach from Ms. Conway or her opioid cabinet.

"I haven't talked to Kellyanne at all, and I'm from the worst state for this," said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican from West Virginia. At 52 deaths overdose deaths per 100,000 people, West Virginia experienced the highest rate of drug overdose mortality in the U.S. for 2016, according to the CDC.

More articles on opioids: 
Methadone clinics double in Colorado in 3 years — residents still lack access to addiction treatment 
Tennessee Medical Association outlines opposition to governor's opioid plan 
10 states with the most fatal opioid overdoses – Ohio tops list

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