Biden to nominate Dr. Rahul Gupta to be next drug czar

Dr. Rahul Gupta speaks to the media during a press conference about the first confirmed case of Zika in a pregnant woman on July 19, 2016 in West Virginia. President Joe Biden will nominate Gupta to be his administration's drug czar, a White House spokesperson confirmed on July 13.

By Maegan Vazquez, CNN

(CNN) -- President Joe Biden will nominate Dr. Rahul Gupta to be his administration's drug czar, a White House spokesperson confirmed on Tuesday.

If confirmed, Gupta, a former West Virginia health official and the chief medical and health officer at the March of Dimes, would be the first physician to ever lead the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Gupta also led the Biden transition team for the office.

A White House spokesperson called the nomination "another historic step in the Administration's efforts to turn the tide of our nation's addiction and overdose epidemic."

"Dr. Gupta brings firsthand experience as a medical doctor and public health official using evidence-based strategies to address the overdose epidemic in West Virginia. We hope he will be confirmed by the Senate soon," the spokesperson added.

The Washington Post first reported on Gupta's nomination.

The nomination of Gupta, long seen as a favorite of the administration, has been supported by moderate Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin -- a key vote in the Senate who has both thwarted and bolstered Biden's legislative agenda.

Manchin praised Gupta's nomination to the office, saying in a statement that the appointment "means someone with firsthand knowledge of the opioid crisis, especially in West Virginia, will be coordinating the national fight against the drug epidemic that continues to ravage our nation."

Gupta is a primary care physician who served as health commissioner of West Virginia.

March of Dimes President and CEO Stacey D. Stewart said in a statement that the organization supports Gupta's nomination, noting that "as the first ever physician to be nominated to this Office, he brings a wealth of on-the-ground expertise."

"Dr. Gupta led efforts in West Virginia to address the opioid crisis, gaining national prominence as a leader in tackling this issue," Stewart said. "At March of Dimes, he has advocated for policies and programs to prevent and treat substance use, with a focus on the safety and care of pregnant women and infants."

Gupta's nomination comes as the nation continues to grapple with rising overdose deaths -- even as the country deals with the coronavirus pandemic. Late last year, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned of a "substantial increase" in fatal drug overdoses coinciding with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Gupta would replace acting ONDCP director Regina LaBelle, who previously served in the office during the Obama administration.

This story has been updated with additional reaction to Gupta's nomination.

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