Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., sent a letter Wednesday to President Donald Trump urging him not to gut the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, a federal agency responsible for curbing the nation’s opioid epidemic.
Politico and other news outlets have reported that the Trump administration has proposed slashing the drug office’s funding by 95 percent. The cuts would eliminate the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area and Drug Free Communities programs that aim to curb the supply and demand for illicit drugs.
“While our country and state are fighting this opioid epidemic, we should not be cutting the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy,” Manchin said. “In counties across West Virginia, drug abuse is tearing families apart, destroying our workforce and weakening our economy.
“Our communities rely on the [drug office’s] leadership and funding to help rebuild the lives, families and communities that are being torn apart.”
Also Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., joined 70 House members who signed a letter, asking Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney to keep the White House drug policy office intact.
“We are gravely concerned that any interruption would exacerbate the [drug] crises in our communities,” Jenkins and fellow House members wrote.
U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., also signed the letter.
Jenkins recently announced plans to run for U.S. Senate in next year’s election. If Jenkins wins the GOP primary, he would face Manchin in the general election.
West Virginia has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation, and the deaths are rising. At last count, 864 West Virginians fatally overdosed in 2016 — a record number. Heroin, fentanyl and prescription painkillers caused the bulk of those deaths.
In his letter, Manchin wrote that White House drug office programs help coordinate federal and local law enforcement agencies, reducing illegal drug sales and production. The programs also work with community groups to address substance abuse, Manchin said.
“With an average of 91 people dying [nationwide] every day from an opioid overdose, now is not the time to be cutting funding to the critical federal programs that help us combat this epidemic,” Manchin wrote in his letter to Trump.
The House letter says that the Office of National Drug Control Policy plays a critical role in ensuring that the nation’s drug policies are “effective, accountable and evidence-based.” The office was established nearly two decades ago. It serves as the White House’s only repository of detailed information about national drug problems.
The office, which received $388 million in federal funding in fiscal 2017, would only get $24 million in fiscal 2018, according to a White House budget proposal first reported by Politico earlier this month. More than 30 employees would lose their jobs.
Trump recently set up a White House commission that’s being asked to recommend ways to reduce opioid abuse. The president appointed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to lead the panel.