Lawrence "Chip" Muir, the acting chief of staff and general counsel for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, was suddenly dismissed from his job Tuesday afternoon, multiple sources familiar with the matter told CNN.
Muir's termination comes as the future of the agency remains unclear despite President Donald Trump's emphasis on the opioid crisis as one of his administration's top priorities.
Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency in October
Lawrence "Chip" Muir's termination comes as the agency's future remains unclear
Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency in October, telling an audience in the East Room of the White House that "we can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic."
Until his dismissal, Muir had been busy with efforts to obtain congressional reauthorization for the drug czar's office, which has languished for years, the sources said. The Office of National Drug Control Policy has yet to comment on Muir's departure.
Sources familiar with the shake-up at the agency question whether the administration is truly putting its muscle behind the opioid crisis. About 60 to 70 employees work for the agency. The Office of National Drug Control Policy is led by its acting director, Richard Baum. Muir, a political appointee, had access to key meetings at the White House aimed at curbing the opioid epidemic.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, who has been vocal about the crisis, will still be involved in the opioid push. However, Muir's departure worries people at the agency that the ones who can actually go after the crisis are wasting away.
"They're either shutting us down or reducing us to atrophy, where we amount to zero," a well-placed source said.
Since 1999, the number of American overdose deaths involving opioids has quadrupled. From 2000 to 2015, more than 500,000 people died of drug overdoses, and opioids account for the majority of those. Recently released numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that around 64,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2016.
Trump campaigned for president in part on fighting the scourge of opioid addiction.
In November, acting Health and Human Services Secretary Eric Hargan announced that Trump will donate his third-quarter salary to the Department of Health and Human Services' efforts to combat the opioid epidemic. Trump's money will be used for a "large-scale public awareness campaign about the dangers of opioid addiction," Hargan said.
"This epidemic is a national health emergency," Trump said in October. "Nobody has seen anything like what is going on now. As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue. It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction. Never been this way. We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic. We can do it."