December 6, 2022

The 24-year-old college grad Trump appointed to solve the opioid crisis just gave up

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The controversial 24-year-old former Trump campaign worker who had risen to be Deputy Chief of Staff of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) – where he was a key adviser to President Trump on issues related to the opioid epidemic, and was charged with coordinating the National Drug Control Strategy with 16 different agencies and administering hundreds of millions in grants to law enforcement and community programs – abruptly announced his resignation today from the embattled department.


Taylor Weyeneth, a frat boy who graduated college last May, resigned after the Washington Post discovered inconsistencies and inaccuracies on three resumes that he provided the government.

He had wrongly listed the dates for a New York law firm where he worked. A partner in the firm told The Washington Post that Weyeneth had been “discharged” after he stopped showing up for work.

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Weyeneth also listed on his resume that he had a master’s degree from Fordham University. In fact, he has never completed his coursework and does not have the degree.

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That was exposed in January but did not get Weyeneth fired. Instead, he had been demoted to the position of White House liaison to the drug office.

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Then during the brief government shutdown over this past weekend, Weyeneth was one of three ONDCP employees designated as essential.

After The Washington Post asked questions about why he was essential, the White House suddenly announced that Weyeneth was leaving the agency within the next few weeks.

This is only the latest in a series of problems, resignations, and shifts in policy that have left HHS and in particular the ONDCP – which is supposed to be the leading agency fighting the opioid epidemic – in chaos and appears to be dysfunctional.

The first sign of trouble was when Trump’s draft 2018-2019 budget called for the elimination of the ONDCP.

After an outcry by Congress, medical and law enforcement agencies – who pointed out the opioid crisis had taken 65,000 American lives in 2016 alone – Trump reversed himself.

Then in September, Trump’s HHS Secretary, Tom Price, resigned in the wake of blistering criticism of his excessive use of taxpayer-funded charter flights. His replacement was only approved by the Senate days ago after a controversy erupted because he was formerly a drug company executive who had overseen huge price increases for prescription drugs. He was approved for the most part by Republicans along party lines.

In October, Trump ordered the then-acting HHS Secretary to declare a public health emergency to address the “opioid epidemic,” which meant providing more grant money and resources, much of which was to be spent by the ONDCP.

Even then Trump did not seem to grasp the nature of the crisis. In his speech, he spent much of his time talking about how the opioid epidemic is going to be solved by more law enforcement and building the wall on the Mexican border because most heroin comes into the U.S. from there.

That may be true, but the biggest driver of the opioid crisis is the huge increase in the use of prescription drugs, many of them over-prescribed and legally sold by pharmaceutical companies – and not by Mexico.

Then earlier this month, Trump’s administration announced plans to gut the ONDCP by reducing its annual budget by 95 percent and farming out its main grant-making function to other departments.

That brought about a storm of criticism related to destroying the lead agency in the opioid fight even before it really got started.

Then there is the Weyeneth controversy which has dogged HHS and the ONDCP since he was promoted again and again as at least seven other political appointees left the embattled agency.

Meanwhile there has been no director of the ONDCP for months – a position known widely as the “Drug Czar” – because Trump’s most recent appointee, former Congressman Tom Marino, dropped out after “60 Minutes” reported while in the House he had pushed legislation that would have prevented federal agents from stopping the spread of opioids.

Weyeneth was a controversial appointment from the start in March 2017. He only graduated from St. John’s University in New York City last May – where he studied pre-law and belonged to a fraternity – and his only prior work experience before taking the government position was as a volunteer and then a staffer in the Trump campaign.

Weyeneth was soon promoted to be the liaison for the government’s multi-billion dollar drug initiatives to the White House, including battling the opioid epidemic.

After being promoted to deputy director, Weyeneth was in charge of 65 employees, spending an annual budget of $18.4 million and doing grants to the military, other parts of government and law enforcement of about $350 million.

“Current and former ONDCP officials,”‘ reported The Washington Post earlier this month, “who have served under Democratic and Republican presidents said in interviews that the turmoil, including the elevation of Weyeneth, hinders efforts to rally the government at a time when the nation is going through the worse opioid crisis in history.”

Now even Weyeneth is leaving, there is still no “Drug Czar” and Trump wants to blow up the ONDCP budget and functions, which all adds up to a failure of the effort to deal with the opioid crisis and the continuing dysfunctional nature of the Trump administration.

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Trump likes to talk tough about the opioid epidemic but he is either clueless about its real causes or just lying again for political gain while secretly sabotaging the efforts to actually do something about it as many other countries have already.




Benjamin Locke

Benjamin Locke is a retired college professor with an undergraduate degree in Industrial Labor and Relations from Cornell University and an MBA from the European School of Management.

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