by Don Holman
Don provides current events updates regarding national policy on the addiction and opiate crisis in the US
The title of this post is meant to be somewhat facetious since many people I talk to are not aware of what the ONDCP is, what they do, or even what the letters in the acronym represent. If you are familiar with the ONDCP you can skip through the next three paragraphs since they are copied directly from Whitehouse.gov:
“The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) works to reduce drug use and its consequences by leading and coordinating the development, implementation, and assessment of U.S. drug policy. In addition to its vital ongoing work, ONDCP also provides administrative and financial support to the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, established by Executive Order on March 29, 2017 by President Donald J. Trump.
A component of the Executive Office of the President, ONDCP was created by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988. The ONDCP Director is the principal advisor to the President on drug control issues. ONDCP coordinates the drug control activities and related funding of 16 Federal Departments and Agencies. Each year, ONDCP produces the annual National Drug Control Strategy, which outlines Administration efforts for the Nation to reduce illicit drug use, manufacturing and trafficking; drug-related crime and violence; and drug-related health consequences. ONDCP also leads the development of the consolidated Federal drug control budget, which is published annually in the National Drug Control Strategy: Budget and Performance Summary.
ONDCP also administers two grant programs: the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) and Drug-Free Communities (DFC). The HIDTA program assists Federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement operating in areas determined to be critical drug trafficking regions of the United States. HIDTA supports law enforcement efforts in 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The DFC program provides grants to community coalitions to strengthen the infrastructure among local partners to create and sustain a reduction in local youth substance abuse. Currently, there are 731 DFC-funded coalitions across the country.”
As soon as I lost my son, I started researching where I needed to connect at the Federal level to try and do my part to help stop this crisis. I realized quickly the ONDCP was one of the main components focused on addressing this issue under the Office of the President of the United States. Now, I cannot explain everything that has happened to me the last 22 months after losing my son except to say that God has given me a path and continues to open doors. I have been to the ONDCP twice and had one on one meetings with both the previous Acting Director Richard Baum and current Deputy Director Jim Carroll.
I need to stop here and introduce Kevin Meara with City of Angels (COA) in Trenton, NJ. Kevin and his wife Maryann lost their son KC over 10 years ago to an overdose in their home. Kevin and I were introduced by another Dad I met first that lost his son. Kevin invited me to NJ just 3 months after my loss to participate in a round table meeting with 10 other parents and at the time Gov. Chris Christie. This was the beginning of our close friendship and honestly the point at which I realized that those in the political spot light are human beings and genuinely care about our children and offer compassion and understanding when we share our stories.
The reason I mention Kevin now is because he helped provide opportunities for me to meet others working within ONDCP that have become close friends I value so much. They are people working at the highest level in our Nation to help the entire country but will respond to a text message or an email as if they feel the same about me. I have personally experienced the sense of commitment from all of these people to do what they can to ensure no other parent or sibling experience what Kevin, Tony, Sue, Ann, Jim, Don, David, Jackie, Megan, Mark, Anne Moss, Becky, Ginny, Kristen, Bobbie, myself, and so many others have with the loss of a loved one.
Everyone responds differently to the loss of a child, for me the reason to focus at the Federal level is simply because I could not put myself in the position to try and help a person individually and fail again. I have met others like Kevin that are able to do that time and time again with mixed results. The good is that they get the immediate confirmation of helping someone and seeing a positive result, the bad is the feeling of loss all over again when it doesn’t work. I am getting a little better and have several people I talk to, but I tell them I am not the solution, they are the solution I am just the support.
I connected with Jacqueline through Kevin who has been with ONDCP at least since Michael Botticelli was the Director. Last year, Jacqueline reached out to ask if I could send her a picture of my Son Garrett to use on ornaments, they were making to put on a remembrance tree they put up in the Eisenhower building. She has also told me that she keeps a picture of Garrett in her office.
To some this may not sound like a solution to the crisis but to take the time to remind themselves that a fatal overdose is a person, keeps the mission focused on saving American lives. Jacqueline is one of those people that has a job to do but also understands that her job is not just working in an office, it is bringing hope to parents like Kevin and I that the loss of our sons has an impact on others and motivates them to give their all in this fight. I continue to communicate with Jacqueline where her kindness and compassion provide a sense of encouragement that we will win.
Mac is an officer with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) who serves as a liaison to ONDCP. Mac and I met at a HIDTA conference last year in a chance encounter (I will dedicate a separate Post to HIDTA). Since then we have worked together with CBP Public affairs and Homeland Security Investigations on matters related specifically to my loss. Mac is an amazing person who is personally dedicated to not only fighting the Opioid Crisis but in all aspects of illegal contraband coming into our country by any method. The focus of our discussions usually centers around Illicit Fentanyl being ordered online and shipped to the US from China then delivered to your house by the USPS.
For those unclear, Fentanyl is a synthetic Opioid that is produced legally but is also produced illegally and China seems to be primary producer right now. As a synthetic Opioid, Fentanyl can be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Since Fentanyl produced by illegal labs in China is basically a science experiment, there is no consistency in what is packaged and shipped to your house. Chinese authorities have been working with us but there has always been the knowledge that they could do more.
On Wednesday 11/28/2018. ONDCP Deputy Director Jim Carroll was supposed to speak at this years HIDTA Conference in Cleveland, OH but had to cancel. He was asked to go to the White House that day to brief the President on the Illicit Fentanyl being shipped from China that is killing so many Americans. A few days later, the President met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires. One of the results of this meeting was that President Xi agreed to designate Fentanyl as a Controlled Substance. This means that people selling Fentanyl to the United States will be subject to China’s maximum penalty under the law.
Thank You Mr. President for taking the time to understand fully the role that Fentanyl shipped from China is playing in the deaths of thousands of Americans. Thank You Mr. Carroll for educating yourself on every aspect of the Opioid Crisis and having a clear understanding of Fentanyl so you could accurately brief the President before he left for the G20 summit. Finally, Both Presidents deserve credit for coming together and taking action against those choosing profit with no regard for the loss of human life. Regardless of a person’s personal or political beliefs, this is a positive move in the fight against the Opioid Crisis. However, it is still important to educate the public on the dangers of Fentanyl so that the demand can also be reduced.
In future posts I will share personal experiences with the White House, HHS, CBP, HSI, and HIDTA. I will also share meetings and relationships with members of the House, Senate and the US Surgeon General Jerome Adams. If I share something that is not familiar, I encourage you to perform your own research for a better understanding then share with others.