Today, President Trump released his Administration’s FY19 budget, alarming drug policy reform advocates by increasing funding for programs most associated with the war on drugs. Just two years ago, President Obama’s budget focused more money on treatment and prevention than enforcement and interdiction. Trump’s budget appears to be a reversal of that approach.
“Trump’s budget proposes new funds for addressing the opioid overdose crisis but far more money is being sought by the president to escalate the war on drugs,” said Grant Smith, Interim Director of Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs. “We know from decades of locking people up for drugs that it doesn’t work to curb drug use but Trump’s budget proposes wasting billions of dollars to do exactly that. That money would be much better spent on harm reduction and treatment interventions that actually prevent overdoses and save lives.”
Among the most concerning aspects of the budget:
It is also deeply concerning to see that the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program is to be moved to the Drug Enforcement Administration. This Reagan-era program incentivizes state and local law enforcement to make drug arrests and then send the bill to the federal government, increasing incarceration and allowing states to shirk fiscal responsibility for their actions. HIDTA should be eliminated, not moved, or at a minimum reformed to ensure the program focuses on high-level traffickers.
While there are net increases in funding to tackle the opioid epidemic, too much of the funding goes towards law enforcement agencies. The section of the budget on federal drug control funding shows that while there is around $900m in increased funding for the Department of Health and Human Services, there is a parallel increase of $775m for the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security to carry out drug enforcement activities. The Administration's claim that it is requesting $13 billion to "combat the opioid epidemic" is overshadowed by the a request of $18 billion to build a wall.
Ultimately, the fate of the budget proposal is in the hands of Congress. In recent years, there has been a bipartisan attempt to move us away from the war on drugs. Republicans and Democrats continue to work together on marijuana legalization, sentencing reform and treating the opioid overdose crisis as a public health issue – not a law enforcement one.