One of the hundreds of key jobs with agencies in Donald Trump’s White House that have gone unfilled since his inauguration now has an occupant. STAT has reported that Jim Carroll will serve as Trump’s “drug czar” at the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), a role he has maintained as acting director since April 2018.
But as both Politico and STAT noted, Carroll may have the title but not necessarily the reins of ONDCP policy, as decision-making on the national opioid crisis has been largely led by Trump advisors Kellyanne Conway and Katy Talento. The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy has also gained a director in former University of Oklahoma professor Kelvin Droegemeier, who filled a seat left empty since January 2017.
Their appointments by a lame-duck Congress on January 2 coincide with a tumultuous period for the administration, which is in the midst of a partial government shutdown and a House under Democratic control. Putting Carroll in charge of the ONDCP may end a glaring absence in the direction of opioid policy while, as STAT noted, 70,000 Americans die each year from overdose-related deaths.
But as STAT also noted, Carroll is a former commonwealth attorney for Fairfax Virginia who has held several positions within the Trump administration, including stints with the Justice and Treasury Departments, and has also worked for the Ford Motor Company.
He lacks any public health experience beyond his appointment as acting director, though the White House stated that the majority of Carroll’s cases in Virginia were drug-related, and he worked with attorneys dealing with substance abuse issues at the Virginia State Bar.
Carroll is also taking the helm of an office that has been marked by a general lack of cohesiveness since Trump took office. The loss of several key personnel, including a press secretary and communications director, who were replaced by inexperienced staffers – including 24-year-old Taylor Weyeneth, a former campaign worker who served as deputy chief of staff – and controversy over the nomination of Rep. Tom Marino, who reportedly pushed a bill that would weaken the Drug Enforcement Administration’s ability to regulate opioid distributors suspected of misconduct – has left employees at the DEA feeling rudderless, according to officials cited by STAT.
Policy direction has been largely left to Conway, who has drawn fire for statements about drug dependency that have been perceived as ill-informed or insensitive. She told ABC’s This Week in 2017 that “will” is a key component to battling the opioid epidemic and informed Fox News that same year that “the best way to stop people from dying from overdoses . . . is by not starting in the first place.” Conway was later excoriated on social media for advising young people to choose ice cream and French fries over fentanyl.
The other administration appointment, Kelvin Droegemeier, faces a similar uphill battle at the Office of Science and Technology Policy. The agency has also lost a significant number of staffers, and the Trump administration has maintained a skeptical stance on issues of climate change. The appointment of Droegemeier, a former meteorologist, has been praised by science advocates, but as with Carroll, it remains unclear as to how much he’ll be able to accomplish in his new position.
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