Could moving Drug-Free Communities grants to HHS help providers?
The White House once again appears poised to diminish the role of the Office of National Drug Control Policy by taking away some of its funding, according to reports.
But moving grants for the Drug-Free Communities program from ONDCP, which leads and coordinates the development, implementation, and assessment of the nation's drug policy, to the authority of HHS could actually buoy a program that often benefits providers.
A story that first appeared in Politico on Thursday reported that the Trump administration also wants to shift the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas grant program from ONDCP to the Department of Justice.
The DFC program was created in 1998 and is led by ONDCP in partnership with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. Every year, it provides grants of up to $125,000 to community organizations, including many providers to combat drug and alcohol abuse and support rehabilitation treatment.
But the program has run into problems. The Government Accountability Office last year found ONDCP and SAMHSA were not properly tracking the success of grant recipients. Moving it to HHS, a much larger federal agency, could help bring credibility and greater organization to the program.
Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance said taking both HIDTA and DFC out of ONDCP could allow the office to improve intra-agency coordination and develop new ways to address drug-related harm.
But Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of opioid policy research at Brandeis UniversityKolodny isn't hopeful that these moves by the administration will significantly help the opioid crisis. He's eager to see more action from the White House since President Donald Trump declared the crisis a public health emergency last October. That declaration will expire Jan. 23.
This marks the second time the Trump administration has sought to diminish the role of the ONDCP. In May, Trump proposed a budget that would have cut 95% of the ONDCP's budget. The administration retreated from that plan after receiving pushback from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers. A revised budget proposal instead cut $3 million from the DFC program's prior annual budget of $92 million, while reducing HIDTA's budget from $250 million to $246 million.
Congress created the HIDTA grant program in 1988 to support federal, state and local law enforcement in areas with high rates of drug-trafficking activity. There are currently 49 states that benefit.
But the program has come under criticism by those who say its work duplicates existing DOJ efforts.
"The extent to which the split helps speed the distribution of grants—because those that are more focused on law enforcement will go directly to the DOJ and others to HHS—then it's a good thing," said François de Brantes, executive director of the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute at the Altarum Institute. "To the extent it simply fragments the process, then it's not a good thing. Time will tell."
Kolodny worries about how the decreased funding will affect the search for the ONDCP's permanent director. The position is one of hundreds that remains vacant since Trump took office last year.
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