02 February 2023- Today, Congressman David Trone (D-MD), co-chair of the U.S. Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking; Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), member of the Commission; Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Annie Kuster (D-NH), Trone’s fellow co-chairs on the Bipartisan Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Task Force; and 51 other Members of Congress sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to reinstate the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to a Cabinet-level position.
Trone and his Congressional colleagues sent the letter amid rising drug overdoses throughout the United States. Since 1999, one million Americans have died from drug overdoses. With a record 108,000 Americans lost in 2021, Stanford now estimates 1.2 million more Americans will die in this decade alone. This letter follows the same recommendation to elevate the ONDCP Director made by the U.S. Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking, which Trone co-chaired alongside Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR).
The ONDCP is responsible for the development and implementation of the National Drug Control Strategy and Budget. The office coordinates across 19 federal agencies and oversees $41 billion to address substance use disorder. In 1993, President Clinton elevated the head of ONDCP to serve on his cabinet and the position held Cabinet-level status until 2009. Since the position was removed from the Cabinet, deaths from overdose in the U.S. have more than doubled, with powerful synthetic opioids like fentanyl infiltrating much of the country’s illicit drug supply.
In the letter, the lawmakers call upon President Biden to fulfill the promise he made during his 2022 State of the Union address to end the country’s opioid epidemic. The bipartisan, bicameral group believes that this step is vital to curbing American deaths, reducing synthetic opioids entering the country, building interagency collaboration, and improving the effectiveness of drug control programs.
The four leads were joined by Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Susan Collins (R-ME), Cortez Masto (D-NV), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Jon Tester (D-MT), Dina Titus (D-NV), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), André Carson (D-IN), Sean Casten (D-IL), Joe Courtney (D-CT), Angie Craig (D-MN), Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Bill Foster (D-IL), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Josh Harder (D-CA), Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Susie Lee (D-NV), Mike Levin (D-CA), Kathy Manning (D-NC), James McGovern (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Wiley Nickel (D-NC), Donald Norcross (D-NJ), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Chris Pappas (D-NH), Brittany Pettersen (D-CO), Dean Phillips (D-MN), Stacey Plaskett (D-VI), Katie Porter (D-CA), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), John Rutherford (R-FL), Patrick Ryan (D-NY), Andrea Salinas (D-CA), Hillary Scholten (D-MI), Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), Greg Stanton (D-AZ), Paul Tonko (D-NY), Lori Trahan (D-MA), and Susan Wild (D-PA).
The full letter can be found here and below.
February 1, 2023
The Honorable Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Biden,
As your State of the Union address approaches, we urge you to use the occasion to announce that you will be returning the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to a Cabinet-level position. The drug overdose epidemic is one of our nation’s most pressing crises, claiming lives at an alarming rate. Re-elevating ONDCP to the Cabinet will allow it to marshal the full resources of the federal government against this scourge of overdoses and demonstrate to the Congress and the American people your commitment to ending it.
We were pleased that, in your State of the Union address last year, you identified ending the opioid epidemic as your top priority in the Unity Agenda. Since then, we have made great strides in the areas you discussed, including increasing funding for prevention, treatment, and recovery, and removing barriers to accessing medication for opioid use disorder. However, we have not yet broken the trend of rising overdose deaths, and patterns in overdose deaths are constantly evolving, as evidenced by the growing challenges related to xylazine. Overdose deaths increased almost 60 percent between 2019 and 2021, and from September 2021 through August 2022 (the most recent twelve-month period available) more than 107,000 Americans died from overdoses, equal to 293 deaths every day. Tragically, overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans aged 18 to 45.
ONDCP is an interdisciplinary office, touching national security, law enforcement, public health, and trade. As the President’s principal adviser on both domestic and international drug policy, ONDCP coordinates policy formulation, implementation, and assessment across 19 federal departments and agencies and is responsible for certifying drug control agencies’ budgets. Giving the ONDCP Director the same stature as Cabinet members improves the Director’s ability to collaborate with, and coordinate interagency strategies among, equals. Having a Cabinet-level ONDCP would also help ensure that drug policy is considered and prioritized across all policy discussions, accountability for performance is standardized across agencies involved in drug control activities, and the Administration is prepared to zealously respond to trends in drug use and overdose.
Reinstating the Director of ONDCP to a Cabinet-level position was the first recommendation in the report of the bipartisan, bicameral U.S. Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking, published in February last year. Since the Director’s position was downgraded in 2009, Members of the House and Senate have repeatedly called for the demotion’s reversal, and advocacy groups, trade associations, substance use disorder treatment facilities, and former ONDCP leadership all support its reinstatement.
Indeed, you have supported and called for the ONDCP Director to serve at the Cabinet level. In 2001, at the confirmation hearing of the then-ONDCP director, you said: “I have argued that Cabinet-level status is necessary to give the position visibility commensurate with the depth of our Nation’s drug problem, providing our drug czar the clout to stop interagency feuding, fight for budgetary resources, and decertify inadequate agency drug budgets.” Those words were true more than 20 years ago and they are even truer today.
When meeting with our constituents, drug trafficking and the overdose epidemic are routinely among their top concerns. As Members of Congress, we are doing our best to address this crisis, but we urge you to take every action within your authority to prevent further loss of life. Reinstatement of the ONDCP Director to the Cabinet would be a meaningful step in improving interagency collaboration and the effectiveness of drug control programs across the federal government. It is time to restore the Director to a Cabinet position to address the drug crisis with the full force of this Administration and those that follow.
Thank you in advance for your consideration of this request.