The country’s next drug czar, if confirmed by the Senate, will be the first physician to hold the post, according to news reports.
President Joe Biden is expected to nominate Dr. Rahul Gupta, the former health commissioner of West Virginia and the current medical and health director at the March of Dimes, to replace Regina LaBelle, acting director at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
The agency, which sits within the Executive Office of the President but whose director is no longer a cabinet-level position, will play a key role in combating the rising tide of death from opioid overdoses. The opioid epidemic has been overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic in the last 18 months.
Preliminary reporting from the national Centers for Disease Control and prevention indicate that overdose deaths soared almost 30% from November 2019 to November 2020, despite years of efforts to control addiction to the painkillers. Gupta has said there is probably a link between the rising drug fatalities and the pandemic-related isolation, which made it harder to get treatment and other drug-related services.
Centrist Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia praised Gupta’s approach to tackling the opioid problem in his state, saying his nomination “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.”
Although the post requires the drug control director to develop and implement law enforcement policies and budgets in the effort to combat drug abuse, among other things, Gupta emphasized his experience as a physician and public health official in a statement to the Washington Post, which first reported on his upcoming nomination on Tuesday.
“As a physician, I have seen firsthand the heartbreaking toll of addiction and overdose in all our communities, but I have also seen how we can save lives if we understand the individuals behind the statistics and meet them where they are with high-quality, evidence-based care and services,” Gupta said.