Re-elevating Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy to the President’s Cabinet would strengthen U.S. response to opioid epidemic, which claims more than 100,000 lives each year

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington (February 1, 2023) – Ahead of President Biden’s State of the Union address, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the U.S. Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking, and Representatives David Trone (MD-06), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), and Annie Kuster (NH-02), co-chairs of the Bipartisan Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Task Force, today led their colleagues in urging the President to announce that he will restore the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to a Cabinet-level position. Elevating the post would enable ONDCP to more effectively coordinate drug control efforts across federal agencies and enhance the Biden administration’s response the opioid epidemic, a public health crisis that kills more than 100,000 Americans each year. Prior to 2009, the ONDCP Director’s position was Cabinet-level. As a senator, President Biden supported the ONDCP Director’s serving at the Cabinet level.

“The opioid epidemic is a public health emergency, and the President needs to treat it that way,” said Senator Markey. “The Office of National Drug Control policy is poised to take on the suffering of thousands of Americans who struggle with substance misuse through a smart, compassionate, community-based strategy that draws on the resources of every corner of our government. But it needs to be empowered with Cabinet-level leadership at the top.”

“We were pleased that, in your State of the Union address last year, you identified ending the opioid epidemic as your top priority in the Unity Agenda,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to President Biden. “Since then, we have made great strides in the areas you discussed, including increasing funding for prevention, treatment, and recovery, and removing barriers to accessing medication for opioid use disorder. 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.”

“As Members of Congress, we are doing our best to address this crisis, but we urge you to take every action within your authority to prevent further loss of life,” the lawmakers continued. “Reinstatement of the ONDCP Director to the Cabinet would be a meaningful step in improving interagency collaboration and the effectiveness of drug control programs across the federal government. It is time to restore the Director to a Cabinet position to address the drug crisis with the full force of this Administration and those that follow.”

Senators Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and Representatives André Carson (D-IN), Sean Casten (D-IL), Joe Courtney (D-CT), Angie Craig (D-MN), Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Bill Foster (D-IL), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Josh Harder (D-CA), Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Susie Lee (D-NV), Mike Levin (D-CA), Kathy Manning (D-NC), James McGovern (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Wiley Nickel (D-NC), Donald Norcross (D-NJ), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Chris Pappas (D-NH), Brittany Pettersen (D-CO), Dean Phillips (D-MN), Stacey Plaskett (D-VI), Katie Porter (D-CA), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), John Rutherford (R-FL), Patrick Ryan (D-NY), Andrea Salinas (D-CA), Hillary Scholten (D-MI), Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), Greg Stanton (D-AZ), Paul Tonko (D-NY), Lori Trahan (D-MA), and Susan Wild (D-PA) signed the letter.

In December, the Department of Health and Human Services heeded Senator Markey’s call to update treatment policies to support Americans living with opioid use disorder. That same month, the Senate passed key provisions of his Opioid Treatment Access Act through the end-of-the-year spending package to protect communities facing the worst of this crisis by shortening wait times for patients to qualify for methadone, a substance use disorder treatment, and easing methadone clinics’ ability to deliver treatment directly to patients. The package also includes language to improve training for medical professionals prescribing certain controlled substances, including opioids, as Senator Markey has advocated for through his bipartisan Safer Prescribing of Controlled Substances Act, as well as $70 million for equipment to ensure U.S. Customs officials have the necessary resourced to curtail fentanyl trafficking into the country. In February of last year, the Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking issued its final report; its first recommendation is re-elevating the ONDCP Director to the President’s Cabinet.