Biden To Nominate Former West Virginia Health Officer As Drug Czar
President Joe Biden is expected to nominate a former West Virginia health official as the nation’s top official on drug control policy.
The White House is expected to make official Tuesday afternoon the nomination of Dr. Rahul Gupta as director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Gupta currently serves as the top health official at the March of Dimes, an organization focused on maternal and infant wellness. Before that, he served as West Virginia’s commissioner of public health and the state’s health officer from 2014 to 2017.
During Gupta’s tenure in West Virginia, the state suffered some of the worst effects of the opioid crisis.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia praised Gupta's experience in his field and said 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."
Manchin noted that 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 combating the drug epidemic to ONDCP – the office charged with addressing the drug epidemic that has killed over 90,000 Americans just last year," Manchin said.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Gupta has warned of its effect on addiction and substance use disorders, citing a shift away from in-person care.
During a briefing on the state's response to the pandemic, Gov. Jim Justice confirmed news of Gupta's appointment.
In a statement, Justice said Gupta has "led the way" in the state's battle against the opioid crisis.
“Under his leadership, our state had turned a corner in that fight," Justice said. "There’s still much more work to do, especially with the additional challenges brought on in the past year by the COVID-19 pandemic, but I believe that there is no one better-suited to this important job than someone who represented a state and a people where this crisis really hits close to home."
Leaders of the West Virginia Senate also congratulated Gupta on the nomination.
“This is outstanding news for West Virginia, and for the entire country,” said Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley. “Dr. Gupta is a world-class advocate for public health. His leadership was critical in West Virginia’s fight against the opioid epidemic, and his guidance was critical as we developed new policies to protect and support our families who experience substance abuse disorder. I look forward to the great things our country will accomplish in this fight under his leadership.”
The West Virginia Senate unanimously adopted Senate Resolution 24 during the 2021 Regular Session, which urged President Biden to appoint Dr. Gupta to the role. Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, who is a physician, was the lead sponsor of the resolution.
“I’m ecstatic to learn that Dr. Gupta has been nominated to lead this office,” Takubo said. “Dr. Gupta is truly a bipartisan, nonpolitical person, whose interests are pure. If he’s able to accomplish even a fraction of what he did for West Virginia in his new federal role, the United States will really be headed in a positive direction with handling the opioid epidemic.”
Following Biden’s win as president in Nov. 2020, Gupta helped lead the president’s transition team on efforts related to drug control policy.
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he’d be the first physician to hold the Drug Control policy director position.