Biden administration’s drug czar praises Modi’s ‘Drug Free India’ vision

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Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Dr. Rahul Gupta, at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on December 6, 2022. PHOTO: T. Vishnudatta Jayaraman, News India Times

Washington DC: Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Dr. Rahul Gupta, praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision for a “drug free India.”

In an exclusive interview, Dr. Gupta also noted the Biden Administration’s efforts to advocate for universal access to medications for opioid use treatments, and counter transnational criminal organizations.

“I heard several times that Prime Minister [Modi] has been talking about a drug free India, which clearly seems that there’s leadership that is looking at both the addiction as well as the drug trafficking and counter narcotics,” Dr. Gupta told News India Times in an interview at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on December 6, 2022.

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Dr. Gupta who is the first physician to serve in this post, said, “I was honored to be nominated by President Biden to this position, and was very happy to see the confirmation process go through. The recognition of putting the first physician in this position is a recognition for the country by President Biden himself that this is a public health crisis.”

 When asked about the Biden Administration’s plan for new sanctions by the Treasury Department to counter transnational criminal organizations and illicit trafficking of Fentanyl, Dr. Gupta, asserted, “We want to make sure that we have the ability for our Treasury Department to go after not just the wrongdoers but also the enablers like their real estate agents, their lawyers, and other financiers.” He also informed that his office is working closely with both the US Office of Foreign Assets Control at Treasury Department and the Department of Justice to ensure that they’re holding accountable bad actors irrespective of where they are globally placed.

About the illicit synthetic drugs and steps undertaken to reduce access to these drugs, Dr. Gupta voiced optimism about the recent statistics showing improvements, and attributed success to expansion of treatment options, such as utilization of telehealth services, almost 20 percent increase in providers who are providing drug-related treatment, and 37 percent increase in Naloxone, the antidote for overdose deaths, prescriptions. He said the government is also ensuring that social media companies marketing drugs to children are being held accountable.

According to Dr. Gupta, he believes Naloxone should be readily available to people at risk of overdosing. He shared that the Biden Administration is working with the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to evaluate if Naloxone can be made available over-the-counter.

To a question about universal access to Methadone, he noted that “President Biden’s strategy is very clearly outlined that we want universal access to medications for opioid use treatment and for opioid use disorder. That includes Methadone, Buprenorphine, and Naltrexone, all three FDA approved medications,” adding “There’s a bill right now called the MAT Act, that allows removal of any barriers as President Biden called for in his State of the Union speech. We’re working with Congress to see that gets through during this session. If it does, it will have significant and remarkable impact on saving lives across America.”

Dr. Gupta, who has worked in private practice, academia, and local governments noted he was fortunate to be appointed by two Governors, both Republican and Democrat, in West Virginia as the State Health Commissioner. “During that time, we spent a lot of time in understanding the opioid crisis and the transition evolution. It allowed us to do some things that have since been replicated by many other states in order to save lives and to get treatment behind the walls…to help the most marginalized and underserved communities and expand access to treatment.”

A medical graduate of Delhi University, Dr. Gupta, who visited India last month, said he noticed a serious commitment from the government of India to its Counter Narcotics platform and pharmaceutical industry. He added, “I also found a really [good] understanding of the issue of addiction and substance use disorders – from Tele-MANAS app [24×7 mental health service] to other things that India is actively engaged in reaching out to millions of people across the country, recognizing that this is something that needs to be addressed head on.”

His India visit comes on the heels of the first US-India Counter Narcotics Agreement, and India taking over the G20 Presidency. During his visit, he met with the Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment, Director General (DG) of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, DG of the Narcotics Control Bureau among others. He also visited the Society for Promotion of Youth and Masses at Kingsway Camp, a juvenile center for youth incarcerated for murder and other serious offenses, in addition to the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences Ghaziabad Opioid Treatment Center, which treats roughly 100,000 patients a year.

Dr. Gupta first came to this country in the early 1980s as his father was posted as a diplomat at the Indian Embassy in Washington DC. His father was also engaged in hosting late PM Indira Gandhi’s first state visit during Ronald Reagan’s Presidency in 1982.

While talking about his early education experience in the US, Dr. Gupta recalled it was a big adjustment to return to India and readapt. “There’s a lot of adjustment but I think these adjustments make you stronger. They make you more tenable to seeing the different perspectives, having a richness of cultures of both countries and democracies, strong democracies.”

Dr. Gupta who returned in 1996 as a first-year resident in internal medicine to Chicago, said he never expected that he would be in this position today. When asked about a message for next generation Indian physicians, he said, “young physicians especially from India are hardworking, smart, and committed. They leave their families and loved ones behind for a purpose,” adding “I think it’s important to not settle for anything but continue to see how you can make the most impact in the community you serve. It doesn’t matter where you’re serving because I’ve served in communities as small as 1800 people and the cities like Delhi as large as 30 million people. It is the value and the impact that you bring to your community.”

Dr. Gupta’s wife, Dr. Seema Gupta, also a physician, has been serving in the Veterans Administration for the past decade. His identical twin sons, Drew Gupta is at Harvard Medical School, and Arka Gupta is at Harvard Law School. Both graduated from Yale University for Undergraduate.

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