(Summer 2017) With a new president in the Oval Office, changes are taking place with the nation’s war on drugs. House Representative and early Trump supporter, Tom Marino, is in line to spearhead the initiative as the next Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Director, aka “Drug Czar”. This agency is charged with forming the National Drug Control Strategy, a plan that is revised each year and engages all pertinent federal agencies in the creation of its objectives and results.
Marino is a three-term Congressman from Pennsylvania who is well-known for his drug-control efforts. He was tapped in 2016 to join a House committee working to reduce the rampant opioid problem. Prior to that, Marino introduced two pieces of legislation that were passed:
- the Transnational Drug Trafficking Act to reduce drug movement between countries
- a measure to foster cooperation between the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and prescription drug distributors
Pressure is mounting to make all levels of government – from municipalities to foreign governments– responsible for reaching goals to curb both drug trafficking and illicit use. However, with Congress working to reduce spending, Marino may face additional challenges in these areas as his ONDCP may be subject to some funding cuts.
President Trump has also chosen New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to head the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. The President aims to bolster both legal and preventative actions in this area. Christie’s job will be to devise the best method of fighting America’s drug crisis and treating individuals in need of help.
Meanwhile, new Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo reversing Obama-era strategies that took a softer tack on some drug charges. Sessions feels the less-severe approach, which included a decrease in the prosecution of drug and gun crimes during the previous administration, led to a subsequent uptick in murders. Several years ago, then-Attorney General Eric Holder (under the Obama administration) encouraged prosecutors to circumvent mandatory minimum sentences in select situations by not including the amount of drugs seized in charging documents. Sessions’ memo encourages prosecutors to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense” which will likely result in stricter prosecution of drug violations, more serious indictments and extended incarceration.
In addition to new appointments, the Trump administration is poised to release $485 million in grant funding to states for opioid abuse prevention, treatment and recovery services. States and territories have been allotted money according to both overdose fatality data and the number of individuals unable to attain treatment for opioid addiction. This subsidy represents the first two rounds earmarked in the 21st Century Cures Act, a measure approved by President Obama last December. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price said that $500 million in state grants will also be made available in 2018.
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