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Appalachia Health News tells the story of our health challenges and how we overcome them throughout the region. 

Former W.Va. Health Official Becomes U.S. Drug Czar

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Ashton Marra
/
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A former West Virginia health official will become part of President Joe Biden’s administration.

Dr. Rahul Gupta was named director of National Drug Control Policy and confirmed for the position by Congress on Thursday. Gupta is the first physician to serve in this role.

“I have seen firsthand the heartbreaking toll of addiction and overdose in 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,” said Gupta in a statement from the White House.

Most recently, Gupta worked for the March of Dimes, a national organization promoting healthy outcomes for babies and their mothers.

Before that, he served as the leading health official of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department and the state’s Bureau for Public Health.

West Virginia political and health leaders congratulated the former state resident on his new job, saying he will bring a true understanding of the opioid crisis.

“His work to combat the drug epidemic in a state with the worst overdose rate in the nation, where we lost 1,386 West Virginians to fatal drug-related overdoses last year, makes him well-prepared to lead similar efforts on a national scale,” said Sen. Joe Manchin.

Statements of support also came from state health officer Dr. Ayne Amjad and former Charleston health department officer Dr. Sherri Young.

“I know he will bring a unique and valued perspective on the drug crisis facing this nation, especially rural America,” Young said.

However, Gupta also has critics. National outlets have cited his role in dismissing harm reduction efforts in West Virginia. As the state’s leading health official, he issued a 2018 report that discredited the now defunct Charleston health department’s clean needle exchange.

The Biden administration says harm reduction is key to decreasing record high overdose death rates.


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