By JAKE ZUCKERMAN
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Despite a continually worsening national opioid epidemic, President Donald Trump’s administration is attempting to slash funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
A leaked memo cited in a Politico report reveals the White House proposed to decrease funding for the ONDCP from $388 million annually to $24 million. That money works its way from Washington, D.C., to a number of law enforcement and drug prevention programs across the country, including some in West Virginia.
Once designated as a HIDTA, county law enforcement agencies can receive federal resources to curb drug flow through the area.
A major regional ONDCP dollar recipient, Appalachia HIDTA was allocated an $8 million budget from the office, according to its 2015 annual report. It covers more than 80 counties throughout Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.
In 2015 alone, Appalachia HIDTA seized 381.9 kilograms of heroin, 80,000 dosage units of prescription drugs and 37.6 kilograms of synthetic substances, among others, according to its annual report. Likewise, it seized more than $1.1 billion in wholesale value of illegal drugs and seized more than $30.4 million in cash and other assets that same year.
West Virginia houses 19 counties that qualify as High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas: Berkeley, Boone, Brooke, Cabell, Hancock, Harrison, Jefferson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, Marshall, McDowell, Mercer, Mingo, Ohio, Putnam, Raleigh, Wayne and Wyoming.
Several phone calls made to various members of Appalachia HIDTA and its counterparts at the Southern District of West Virginia’s U.S. Attorney’s office were not returned for this article.
Though the ONDCP’s page on the White House’s website used to contain a wealth of information, it has since been updated and replaced with one sentence: “Check back soon for more information.”
Along with drug trafficking areas, Drug Free Communities, which receive the ONDCP money on the basis that they organize to prevent youth substance abuse, also could lose their grant funding.
In West Virginia, three such organizations receive $125,000 annually from the federal organization: Advocates for Substance Abuse Prevention, the Morgan County Partnership and Strong Through Our Plan, according to a news release from U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin’s office when the funding was announced in 2015.
Mary Ball is a project coordinator for Advocates for Substance Abuse Prevention, which works to produce and share media campaigns designed to prevent youth drug and alcohol use, and to put on events to sponsor drug-free lifestyles.
She said though there’s no surefire way to measure the success of a preventative organization, the coalition has helped foster several popular community programs. Though she declined to comment on how policymakers do their job, she said keeping children away from drugs is invaluable to a community.
“The thing with prevention work is that we could be making a difference and never see it,” she said. “If you affect the life of one person, then you’re successful. We do our best with the programs we have and the things we’re given. As long as we touch at least one person, we’ve done our job.”
In a news release, U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., criticized the proposal. He said the HIDTA program effectively stymies drug flow through West Virginia.
In the leaked memo, in a category marked “Justification,” the draft states the ONDCP produces “duplicative and burdensome administrative tasks” and the freed-up funds can be better used to address drug threats elsewhere.
The argument, however, has found traction from an unlikely source. Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement that since the focus on combating the drug problem has come from a public health angle, not a criminal justice one, the federal body has been made irrelevant.
“The reality is that ONDCP is an agency in dire need of reform,” he said. “The HIDTA and Drug Free Communities grant program, run by ONDCP, are a phenomenal waste of money that contribute to the incarceration and stigmatization of drug users, so their elimination is a welcome move.”
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