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Trey Gowdy demands opioid strategy from Office of National Drug Control Policy

072617 Trunko Hearing on Office of National Drug Control Policy pic
Gowdy said the agency has failed to produce a budget. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said Wednesday that the Office of National Drug Control Policy has failed to produce a strategy or a budget plan to address the growing opioid epidemic across the United States.

"In December 2015, this committee held a hearing to discuss various proposals for reauthorization," Gowdy said at a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which he chairs. "We heard from the then director who testified combating the abuse of prescription drugs was a top priority for the agency."

"However, since then ONDCP has failed to produce a formal national drug control strategy and a national drug control budget, which is supposed to be released no later than February 1 each year," he added. "In the meantime, deaths due to opioid overdoses have only increased in the U.S. in 2016."

The committee discussed the drug abuse epidemic in the U.S. and the need for the Office of National Drug Control Policy to focus on providing solutions to the crisis in its reauthorization.

"We are in the midst of the worst drug epidemic in U.S. history. In 2015 we lost more than 52,00 people to drug overdose, including more than 33,000 to overdoses involving opioids," said Richard Baum, acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Baum said ONDCP has not submitted a draft authorization bill to Congress but said officials at the agency "do have some considered thoughts and would be happy to discuss some of those." Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., pressed Baum for a time frame on the ONDCP's reauthorization draft bill and on a national drug control strategy.

"The chairman pointed out, I think the last reauthorization was 2006, so it's grown stale. We heard Dr. Humphreys point out, you started out originally [with] a crack cocaine focus. Things have changed. Reauthorization has got to take cognizance of that. We want to be supportive but we got to have some kind of time frame," Connolly said.

While Baum did not give a specific timeline, he did say that the agency knows what they need to do and can create a draft bill "relatively rapidly." Baum said ONDCP is currently developing a comprehensive drug strategy that will be ready "early next year."

Don Flattery, who lost his 26-year-old son to an opioid overdose in 2014, was a witness at Wednesday's hearing and stressed the importance of an effective ONDCP.

"The scourge of the opioid addiction epidemic before us today has no stereotypical victim," Flattery said. "It's affecting people of all walks of life, all income levels and all backgrounds."