U.S. Senators consider Gupta for national post
Former West Virginia State Health Officer Dr. Rahul Gupta gets first U.S. Senate drug czar hearing
CHARLESTON — Former West Virginia State Health Officer Dr. Rahul Gupta made his first appearance before U.S. Senators on Tuesday as they consider his nomination to be the new national drug czar.
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee met Tuesday morning to consider several nominations by President Joe Biden for federal judgeships and other offices, including Gupta’s nomination as the new director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
“I’m honored that President Biden had nominated me for this position,” Gupta said. “With decades of experience in public health and public safety, I’m ready and eager to lead the federal government’s response to addiction and the overdose epidemic. With your support, I hope to work as soon as possible.”
Biden nominated Gupta, the former Kanawha-Charleston Health Department executive director and former state health officer and commissioner of the Bureau of Public Health within the Department of Health and Human Resources, for director of ONDCP in July.
“With today’s slate, the Biden administration and Senate Democrats are advancing nominees well qualified who bring important professional and demographic diversity,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
“(Gupta) has served in public health roles in state and local governments and has extensive experience dealing with the opioid crisis,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Republican member Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. “I hope today these hearings show that he is a good fit for that role.”
If approved by the Senate, Gupta would be the first medical doctor to serve in the position of ONDCP director, also known as the drug czar.
Gupta was introduced to the committee by U.S. Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito.
“Dr. Gupta saw first-hand the devastation that the opioid epidemic has unleashed on communities and led statewide efforts to tackle the drug epidemic,” Manchin, D-W.Va., said. “His work leading efforts to combat the drug epidemic in a state with one of the worst opioid overdose rates in the nation … makes him well-prepared to lead similar efforts on a national scale.”
“Throughout his career he has done so much, but I think nothing more than what he has done in the area of that would be covered under the (Office of) National Drug Control Policy,” said Capito, R-W.Va. “He understands the crippling effect of addiction. Our state has been especially hard hit, and he is uniquely situated to use this knowledge to serve our nation.”
Gupta was first appointed as state health officer by former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in 2015. He left DHHR in 2018, finishing out his service under Gov. Jim Justice. Gupta led the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department starting in 2009.
Gupta is a specialist in internal medicine and preventive medicine. He joined the nonprofit March of Dimes in 2018 as its senior vice president and chief medical and health officer. He also advised Biden on drug control policy during his presidential transition between the 2020 election and his inauguration Jan. 20.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy was created in 1988. The office develops national strategies for combating substance abuse and oversees efforts to shut down drug trafficking in high-intensity areas and utilizes federal resources to reduce substance abuse and overdose deaths.
Gupta said there are 21 million Americans today with a substance abuse disorder bit the resources to treat them remain few.
“It’s no surprise that so many people don’t know where to turn for help,” Gupta said. “As a physician, I’ve taken the Hippocratic Oath. I’ve served in towns as small as 1,900 residents and cities as large as 25 million. I’ve seen the challenges, people, providers, and local communities face. As a public official at both county and state levels, my record reflects my commitment to addressing the differing needs of diverse populations.”
Gupta’s nomination is supported by Justice and leaders in the West Virginia Legislature. Gupta’s nomination is also supported by the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry, the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors, and by former drug czars R. Gil Kerlikowske, and law enforcement officials across the nation.
According to DHHR, West Virginia experienced 1,275 confirmed drug overdose deaths in 2020, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic – a 45 percent increase from 878 confirmed overdose deaths in 2019. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug overdose deaths had been on a downward trend previous to 2020, with 702 overdose deaths involving opioids in 2018, down from 833 deaths in 2017.
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