Office Charged With Fighting US Opioid Crisis Appointed A 24-Year-Old Trump Campaign Worker To Help Lead It

Daniel Dell Cornejo

An inexperienced 24-year-old campaign worker was chosen to help lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Washington Post reported on Sunday.

Taylor Weyeneth, whose only experience after graduating from college in 2016 was working on President Trump's campaign, ascended to deputy chief of staff after various staffing issues left him in the role.

The Office of National Drug Policy (ONDCP) works to combat both international and domestic drug problems, including the nation's current opioid crisis.

Weyeneth's career at the ONDCP was preceded by an undergraduate program at St. John's University in New York, where he was a legal studies student and helped organize charity events for veterans and their families.

According to an office official, the 24-year-old's "passion and commitment on the issue of opioids and drug addiction" was an influence in the decision to hire him in March 2017.

Both the official and Weyeneth's mother said Weyeneth was affected by a relative's death years ago, caused by a heroin overdose, which helped foster his passion for combating drug addiction.

By July 2017, Weyeneth had been named deputy chief of staff.

Weyeneth's sudden rise to power is indicative of a troubled drug policy office plagued by frequent staff turnovers.

Although Trump communicated his commitment to fighting the opioid epidemic through the resources of his administration, the ONDCP is still without a permanent director after the departure of director Michael Botticelli, who worked for three years under former president Barack Obama.

According to the Washington Post, at least seven ONDCP officials appointed by the Trump administration have left, including the acting chief of staff.

An internal memo written on January 3 indicated that position of acting chief of staff would not be filled, and instead, its duties would be allocated to the office's acting director and Weyeneth.

"ONDCP leadership recognizes that we have lost a few talented staff members and that the organization would benefit from an infusion of new expert staff," the memo reads. "The functions of the Chief of Staff will be picked up by me and the Deputy Chief of Staff."

After the Washington Post contacted the ONDCP with questions about Weyeneth's qualifications, an official said Weyeneth would return to his previous role as a White House liaison for the office and that his job primarily involved administrative work rather than crafting drug policy.

News of Weyeneth's role as deputy chief of staff was not met well by current and former ONDCP officials, who said the disorder is hindering efforts to fight the country's opioid crisis.

Gil Kerlikowske, who ran the office during the Obama administration as director, said that the move "sends a terrible message" and that it illustrates that "we're not taking this drug issue seriously."

As a campaign worker for then-candidate Trump's presidential run, Weyeneth was involved in coordinating voter services and setting up travel and other accommodations for senior campaign officials.

According to the Washington Post, requests for an interview with Weyeneth were not responded to.