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Doctor describes opioid crisis as 'overwhelming'
02:15 - Source: CNN

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White House had previously proposed virtually eliminating office that fund opioid addiction

Opioid overdoses have reached epidemic levels, according to the CDC

Washington CNN  — 

The Trump administration is backtracking on plans to nearly eliminate the Office of National Drug Control Policy, asking Congress to fund a number of the programs that drug treatment advocates believe have helped fight the scourge of opioid addiction.

According to Richard Baum, acting director of National Drug Control Policy, President Donald Trump’s proposed budget supports $27.8 billion in drug control efforts. The budget request still includes major proposed cuts, but they are less than previous suggested changes.

The High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Program would receive $91.9 million in 2018, down from $95 million in 2016, and the Drug-Free Communities Program could receive $246.5 million in 2018, down from $250 million in 2016. Congress is unlikely to accept most of the Trump proposals.

The administration had planned to virtually eliminate the White House office tasked with fighting opioid abuse, according to a draft memo obtained by CNN earlier this month. That memo said the office would receive a a near 94% cut in 2018, from a $380 million budget to $24 million.

Opioid overdoses have reached epidemic levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A study from the agency found that 25% of all drug overdose deaths were related to heroin in 2015. That number was just 6% in 1999.

Drug advocates decried the draft memo after it was released, arguing that it showed Trump was failing to make good on his 2016 campaign promise to combat opioid abuse.

“I just want to let the people of New Hampshire know that I’m with you 1000%, you really taught me a lot,” Trump said during the 2016 campaign before promising to help people who “are so seriously addicted.”

The change of plans was first reported by Politico.

Trump’s budget indicates that the office will receive some cuts, but not to the level that was outlined in the draft memo.

In addition to treatment advocates, the Trump administration had heard complaints from senators – both Democrats and Republicans – whose states have been ravaged by opioid abuse.

“I appreciate the fact that the White House has changed course and will support the work of the Office of National Drug Control Policy,” said Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican who had long advocated for more focus on the opioid epidemic.

Drug treatment advocates like Tym Rourke, the chairman of New Hampshire’s commission on the issue, also heralded the change of plans.

“I think it is a relief to see an understanding that there are critically important programs to intervene in substance abuse that really do require sustained funding,” he said. “And that the work of the office in coordinating the federal response is an important one.”

Rourke, who had been critical of the draft memo that looked to defund the drug policy office, said there are still concerns about how health care policy and the Republican reform plan currently being debated in Congress would impact treatment.

“There is a long way to go,” he said. “In most states … any improvements that we are seeing in the opioid epidemic are incremental at best, which is just an reminder that this epidemic is going to take a significant amount of time, every and resources to get ahead of it and now is now the time to pull back on those.”