March 17, 2021 – President Joe Biden is planning to announce Dr. Rahul Guptaas his pick for the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), otherwise known as the nation’s drug czar, sources close to the White House tell Filter.

Dr. Gupta, an internal medicine physician, led Biden’s drug policy transition team, and is currently the senior vice president and chief medical and health officer at March of Dimes, a nonprofit that focuses on improving the health of mothers and their children.

But Dr. Gupta previously led West Virginia’s response to the overdose crisis, as the state’s public health commissioner from 2015 to 2018. And it’s his actions (or rather, inaction) in this role that raise questions about his suitability for the ONDCP post—especially since Biden’s current ONDCP has expressed a commitment to compassionate harm reduction principles, a major departure from past federal drug policy agendas.

West Virginia currently leads the nation in overdose fatalities, according to the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And Gupta was praised by local and national press for his efforts to reverse West Virginia’s alarming overdose death rate. In May 2018, Politico Magazine described him as “a data-driven health commissioner” who “figured out a way to slow overdose deaths.”

While Gupta earned accolades for his overdose efforts, public health and harm reduction experts question his response to another urgent health crisis plaguing West Virginia: the spread of blood-borne viruses like HIV and hepatitis.

Facing the known risk of a massive viral outbreak linked to syringe sharing, Dr. Gupta put politics above the health of vulnerable and stigmatized people, public health experts say.



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