Ahead of State of the Union, Spanberger Joins Bipartisan, Bicameral Effort Urging President Biden to Reinstate Director of ONDCP to Cabinet-Level Position

Feb 07, 2023
Healthcare
Press

Spanberger Joins More Than 50 U.S. House and U.S. Senate Lawmakers in Urging the President to Strengthen U.S. Response to Opioid Epidemic

Drug Overdoses are Now the Leading Cause of Death for Americans Aged 18 to 45

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger — a member of the Bipartisan Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Task Force — 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.

Between 2019 and 2021, overdose deaths increased by almost 60 percent and have reached record levels in Virginia. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans aged 18 to 45.

In a letter to President Biden, Spanberger and 54 of her colleagues urged the President to elevate the ONDCP Director to more effectively coordinate drug control efforts across federal agencies and help end the opioid epidemic, which he outlined as a top priority in his Unity Agenda during his 2022 State of the Union address. Reinstating the ONDCP Director to the President’s Cabinet would strengthen the U.S. response to the opioid epidemic — and is consistent with the same recommendation made by the U.S. Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking in February 2022.

“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,” wrote Spanberger and her colleagues. “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.”

The lawmakers continued, “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.”

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 Bill Clinton elevated the head of ONDCP to serve on his cabinet and the position held cabinet-level status until 2009.

The letter is led by U.S. Representatives David Trone (D-MD-06), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-01), and Annie Kuster (D-NH-02), as well as U.S. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA).

Click here to read the letter, and the full letter text is below.

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.

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