Indian American health official would oversee drug policy strategy if confirmed
President Joe Biden has selected Indian American Rahul Gupta, the top health official at maternal-and-child advocacy group March of Dimes, as the nation’s top drug policy official, according to media reports.
Gupta, who previously served as West Virginia’s health commissioner, will be nominated as the next director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Washington Post first reported Tuesday citing unnamed White House officials.
Gupta, a primary-care doctor who led Biden’s transition efforts for the drug policy office, would be the first physician to serve as drug czar if confirmed by the Senate, the Post said.
“President Biden’s nomination of Dr. Rahul Gupta to be the first physician ever to lead the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy is another historic step in the Administration’s efforts to turn the tide of our nation’s addiction and overdose epidemic,” it said citing a White House a statement.
“Dr. Gupta brings firsthand experience as a medical doctor and public health official using evidence-based strategies to address the overdose epidemic in West Virginia,” the statement added. “We hope he will be confirmed by the Senate soon.”
Read: Indian American Dr. Meena Seshamani to lead Center for Medicare (July 8, 2021)
The three-decade-old drug policy office — which was created with the support of Biden, who coined the term “drug czar” in 1982 — coordinates national policy around fighting substance-use disorders, including the response to an opioid crisis that has worsened during the pandemic, the Post noted.
Gupta has publicly warned that the pandemic probably exacerbated addiction-related public health problems, citing the shift from in-person care.
“When those services are either shut down or turned into virtual services, more people can be denied those services and that only leads to more suffering,” Gupta told Sinclair Broadcast Group in a news report broadcast this week.
Gupta, an ally of Sen. Joe Manchin III has been favored for months to take the role of drug czar, but he faced resistance from some anti-addiction advocates, who argued he did too little to ensure safe-needle exchange during a 2017 HIV outbreak in West Virginia, the Post said.
Gupta would replace Regina LaBelle, who has served as the office’s acting director since January.
Meanwhile, 13News reported that West Virginia Governor Jim Justice has confirmed that Gupta is set to be nominated by Biden Tuesday afternoon.
“It is great news that President Biden is going to nominate as our chief drug czar all across our country a West Virginian, Dr. Gupta,” Justice was quoted as saying. Justice praised the work Gupta has done to help curb the opioid crisis in the Mountain State.
“A man that did incredible work here on the opioids,” Justice said. “To have him plugged into that position can only make things better and better for West Virginia.”
Read: Biden to nominate Dr. Rahul Gupta to be next drug czar (July 13, 2021)
Manchin too said Gupta would bring more than a decade of extensive experience to the effort to end the nation’s drug epidemic.
“Dr. Rahul Gupta’s nomination to serve as the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy means someone with firsthand knowledge of the opioid crisis, especially in West Virginia, will be coordinating the national fight against the drug epidemic that continues to ravage our nation,” he was quoted as saying.
“West Virginia has continued to lead the country in drug overdose rates for over 20 years. Dr. Gupta will bring over a decade of extensive experience combatting the drug epidemic to ONDCP – the office charged with addressing the drug epidemic that has killed over 90,000 Americans just last year. He will also be the first physician in charge of ONDCP, bringing needed medical knowledge to this public health crisis,” he added.