January 17, 2018

Warren Presses Kellyanne Conway to Clarify Her Role in Trump Administration's Strategy to Combat the Opioid Epidemic

No Response from Chief of Staff John Kelly to Warren's December Letter Requesting Clarity

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sent a letter today to Counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, seeking clarity on the White House's strategy to combat the opioid epidemic, as well as her role in implementing this critical and time-sensitive strategy. Senator Warren is still waiting for a response from her letter to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly about Conway's role in the Administration's effort to confront the opioid crisis - the letter was sent a week after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that that the President had assigned Conway to "to coordinate and lead the effort" to combat the opioid crisis "from the White House."

The opioid crisis continues to wreak havoc on communities across the country. An estimated 2.6 million Americans are addicted to opioids, with rates rising nationwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 42,000 people died from opioid-involved overdoses in 2016 - in Massachusetts, there were an estimated 2,190 opioid-related deaths in 2016. Nearly half of all U.S. adults have a friend or family member who has dealt with addiction.

President Trump's decision to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency expires on January 23, 2018, but the President has not announced any plans to extend it. Reports indicate that the 90-day emergency declaration has had a minimal impact on the Administration's efforts to mitigate the epidemic, and it remains unclear if federal departments like the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Labor have utilized any supplemental emergency authorities since the declaration.

"Despite the fact that the Council of Economic Advisors recently estimated that the opioid epidemic is costing the country more than half a trillion dollars annually, the Administration has yet to officially allocate new funds to address the epidemic," wrote Senator Warren. The Administration must use every available tool to aggressively tackle the opioid epidemic. Doing so will require a strong commitment to an evidence-based strategy with input from states, administered by experienced leaders with public health experience."

In her letter, Senator Warren also raised concerns about reports on how the high levels of staff turnover in the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) resulted in the promotion of a 24-year-old with no public health experience. Senator Warren asked Conway to answer detailed questions about her experience and duties in addressing the opioid epidemic, the Administration's strategy, staff turnover in an agency critical to combating the crisis, and the still vacant appointments of ONDCP Director and Drug Enforcement Agency Administrator, by no later than January 23, 2018.