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This editorial was published in the Charleston Gazette-Mail on July 15:

We’d like to congratulate Dr. Rahul Gupta on his nomination by President Joe Biden to lead the National Office on Drug Control Policy, a title typically referred to as the nation’s “drug czar.”

Gupta formerly served as commissioner and state health officer for the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health. He first came to West Virginia in 2009 to serve as director for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department. He left the state in 2018, after taking a position as senior vice president and chief medical and health officer for the March of Dimes.

There’s a lot of upside, especially for West Virginia, to Gupta’s nomination and, hopefully, confirmation to this national post.

For starters, he’d be the first physician to serve in the office.

More importantly, Gupta has an intimate understanding of the drug crisis in West Virginia and its ripple effect on nearly every aspect of life in the Mountain State. He knows how broad the problem is and how it touches everything from outbreaks of diseases related to shared needles in intravenous drug use to the soaring number of kids in foster care because parents are either dead from an overdose or incarcerated to the devastating effect on the state’s economy.

It can’t be understated how important it would be to have someone like Gupta — who coordinated many of the efforts in Kanawha County and across the state to respond to the drug crisis — in that national role.

Another pleasant bonus of Gupta’s nomination is how it’s been embraced by political leaders across West Virginia, from the governor to state party leaders and even members of the state’s congressional delegation. In an era when health care and health crisis policy have become needlessly politicized, it was genuinely reassuring to see leaders from both parties congratulate Gupta on his nomination and urge confirmation.

Seeing the drug crisis as a public health issue and not a political pinball machine seems like a no-brainer, but the state and the country have seen this, and other public health issues, batted about for political points recently. Meanwhile, the problem goes unaddressed and the people suffer.

Hopefully, Gupta’s nomination and confirmation can serve not only to help combat the crisis of addiction but also to lead West Virginia and the nation to a point where people are united in solving threats to public health, rather than first considering which talking head says what, and which side they think they have to choose because of it.

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