Opinion

Opinion | John E. Rosenthal, Gil Kerlikowske, and Frederick Ryan

Restore crucial funds to drug-control agency

FILE - This Feb. 19, 2013, file photo, shows OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt. Two-thirds of the respondents in a Yahoo/Marist poll released Monday, April 17, 2017, said opioid drugs such as Vicodin or OxyContin are "riskier" to use than pot, even when the pain pills are prescribed by a doctor. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)
Toby Talbot/Associated Press/File

AT A TIME when the national opioid addiction epidemic is crippling our country — killing more people than car crashes and firearms — it is more important than ever for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy to continue its effective and vital community-based programs that support law enforcement, reduce crime, and save lives. Defunding the office will have an immediate adverse impact on public health and safety.

More than 250 law enforcement and 300 opioid-treatment center partners across the country are on the streets every day working to save lives. President Trump promised to fight the opioid epidemic, and he must honor that pledge by supporting the drug policy office, which helps people struggling with addiction access treatment. Trump’s proposed massive cuts to its budget — by about 95 percent — will have life-and-death consequences.

Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, with more than 54,000 overdose deaths reported in 2015. Almost 33,000 of those overdose deaths — more than 90 deaths every day — involved opioids, including prescription opioid pain relievers, heroin, and the synthetic opioid fentanyl, which is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin.

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The Office of National Drug Control Policy is a key agency in the national effort to combat the opioid epidemic. It is more important than ever to preserve its community-based programs that reduce crime and save lives, such as the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area and the Drug Free Communities programs, two very effective programs with widespread bipartisan support among local, state, and national law enforcement and lawmakers alike. The program facilitates cooperation among enforcement agencies to share information and implement effective strategies to combat drug abuse and drug-related crime in high-need areas of the country. It has increased collaboration between public health and law enforcement and championed many innovations that will likely save millions of lives.

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The drug policy office has also been a champion of the Gloucester-based Angel Program as well as the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, a nonprofit organization that in less than two years has trained and supported 256 law enforcement agencies and partnered with over 300 treatment centers in 30 states. The initiative’s partners serve as a pre-arrest bridge and police-based access point to treatment. Traditional criminal justice approaches to addiction have not been effective, so we are part of a nationwide movement led by law enforcement and the ONDCP that recognizes that addiction is a chronic disease that needs long-term treatment, not arrest and jail. Our pre-arrest diversion and referral programs help make our communities safer, prevent overdose deaths, build community trust of their police, and save law enforcement and taxpayer funds. Together, we have already helped an estimated 10,000 people into treatment to date.

Decimating the ONDCP’s budget by 95 percent will entirely eliminate effective community-based programs and well-established law enforcement partnerships that reduce crime and support life-saving community work. The loss of these programs and the ONDCP’s leadership, resources, and coordination will make it harder for individuals with substance use disorders to access treatment.

The opioid epidemic is the most urgent public health and safety crisis we face today. During this time of extreme need, we should be supporting the critical work of the ONDCP rather than proposing massive and irresponsible cuts which will only result in more preventable overdose deaths and crime.

Gil Kerlikowske is former director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and a board member of PAARI. Frederick Ryan is chief of the Arlington Police Department and a board member of PAARI. John E. Rosenthal is cofounder and chair of the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative.