A group of congressional lawmakers on Thursday called on President Biden to reinstate the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to a Cabinet-level position in order to better address the overdose epidemic in the U.S.
In their letter, the Congress members commended Biden for prioritizing the opioid epidemic in his State of the Union address last year.
“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,” they stated.
Xylazine is a non-opioid drug used as veterinary tranquilizer, also referred to as “tranq.” It is often used in combination with opioids like fentanyl to enhance the effects. Its popularity has grown in recent years, and the drug has been associated with wounds like skin ulcers and accesses. Because it is not an opioid drug, the overdose treatment Narcan is ineffective against reversing the effects of overdoses in which “tranq” is involved.
“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,” continued the lawmakers. “Tragically, overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans aged 18 to 45.”
They urged Biden to announce the reinstatement of this position to the Cabinet level in his upcoming State of the Union address on Feb. 7.
The ONDCP coordinates with 19 federal agencies to lead U.S. drug policy as a component of the president’s executive office.
The head of the ONDCP, a role currently occupied Rahul Gupta, was a Cabinet-level position until 2009, when former President Obama demoted it. The office was established in 1988 with the signing of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act by former President Reagan.
During his time as a senator, Biden was a leading proponent of the creation and expansion of the ONDCP. Former Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah) previously credited Biden with seeing the need for such an office and for helping maintain its relevancy.
In their letter to Biden on Thursday, the lawmakers noted prior remarks from Biden in 2001 in which he advocated for the ONDCP director to serve at the Cabinet level.
“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,” Biden was quoted as saying.
The lawmakers stated that these remarks remain relevant 20 years on.
Lawmakers including Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Reps. David Trone (D-Md.) and Katie Porter (D-Calif.) were among those who signed the letter to Biden.