The first doctor to hold the position of Director of the Office of National Drug Policy, Dr. Rahul Gupta, recently spoke with the Financial Times about how they plan to address the ongoing opioid crisis. “For the first time in history, the federal government is embracing the specific policies of harm reduction,” Gupta said.
Over 107,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2021, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Two thirds of those deaths were attributed to Fentanyl overdoses.
In May, the Biden Administration announced that it would be providing $1.5 billion to a State Opioid Response grant funding opportunity (a follow-up to President Biden’s promise in his State of the Union).
“At this time, less than one out of 10 people in the United States who need addiction care get it. That is why, President Biden released a National Drug Control Strategy to beat the overdose epidemic by going after its drivers: untreated addiction and drug trafficking,” Gupta said in May. “Today we are delivering on key parts of our Strategy through this new funding, which will expand access to treatment for substance use disorder and prevent overdoses, while we also work to reduce the supply of illicit drugs in our communities and dismantle drug trafficking.”
Harm reduction policies and monitoring policies have been implemented in some regions of Europe and Australia, but progress in the U.S. is hindered by legislators who believe it would only promote drug abuse and access.
While the country’s first two supervised drug-injection sites opened in New York in November 2021 to help prevent overdoses, an Appellate Court stated in January that these sites are illegal under Federal law. “The Department supports efforts to curb the opioid crisis ravaging this country, but injection sites are not the solution,” said Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen. “There are more productive ways to address drug abuse, and today’s ruling by the Third Circuit has confirmed that these sites are illegal and therefore not the answer.”
According to Gupta, the solution of whether or not these injection sites should be shut down would be based on “science, data, and evidence available.” Furthermore, he believes that science will also drive the White House’s approach to cannabis legalization. “We’re learning from those states [with legalization]. We’re monitoring the data and trying to see where things go. But one thing is very clear, and the president has been clear about that. The policies that we’ve had around marijuana have not been working,” Gupta said.
Prior to his appointment to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gupta was an advisor to a multi-state cannabis operator called Holistic Industries (the same company that produces the Jerry Garcia cannabis brand, Garcia Hand Picked.)
In a testimony published on June 15, Gupta expressed the importance of action. “Every life is precious and worth saving,” Gupta wrote. “If this Strategy is implemented as intended, we could save 164,000 lives over the next three years, and help tens of millions of people get into treatment and on the path to recovery. The President and I are committed to seeing this through because American lives depend on it.”
Although President Biden said he was supportive of medical cannabis, he has not taken any action toward legalization. However, he did sign an infrastructure bill in November 2021 to allow researchers to use commercial cannabis, rather than government-grown cannabis, when conducting studies. Most recently, Biden declared methamphetamine as an “emerging drug threat.”