Priebus defends major cuts to White House office battling drug epidemic

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WASHINGTON — White House chief of staff Reince Priebus defended a draft proposal to slash funds for the White House office responsible for fighting the opioid epidemic on Sunday, saying a lot of what the office does duplicates other government programs.

Cautioning that “nothing is final in this debate and discussion in regard to this particular issue,” Priebus told Fox News’ Chris Wallace that “we have duplicative services in this regard all over the place,” pointing to the departments of Justice and Health and Human Services.

The draft budget memo, obtained by CNN, proposes cutting the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy’s budget from $380 million to $24 million — or nearly 94 percent — a move at odds with Trump’s campaign pledge to fight opioid addiction and abuse.

The cuts would aim to create “a small, more streamlined organization that can more effectively address drug control issues,” the memo said, adding that the office would look to remove the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program, which tries to coordinate the drug-control efforts of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, and the Drug-Free Communities Support Program, which provides funding to community-based coalitions that organize to prevent youth substance use.

Acting drug czar Richard Baum called the proposed cuts “heartbreaking,” National Public Radio reported.

The Untied States is currently in facing epidemic levels of opioid abuse, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since taking office, Trump has tapped New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie to lead a task force devoted to tackling the issue.

“I don’t think any president showed more commitment in the first 100 days in regard to tackling opiates (and) putting a commission together,” Priebus said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price also commented on the proposed cuts on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, reiterating Priebus’ note that the budget is not yet completed.

“Whether it’s through an office within the White house or a department or agency within the government I don’t think the American people care,” Price said. “What they care about is that we’re addressing this opioid crisis in the most aggressive and effective manner possible.”

Price called fighting opioids “one of the top three priorities” for Health and Human Services.

“We were able to put out $485 million in grants to states two weeks ago,” he said. “I’m moving around the country this coming week to go to states where we want to make certain that they are allowed and have the resources to address this opioid crisis.”

CNN’s Dan Merica contributed to this report.

By Sophie Tatum

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