Trump-era White House Medical Unit gave controlled substances to ineligible staff, watchdog finds

A Pentagon watchdog found a slew of problems with the White House Medical Unit that took place during the Trump administration, including that the unit provided controlled substances to ineligible White House staff. 

A new report from the Department of Defense inspector general found the military-run White House Medical Unit provided a wide range of health care and pharmaceutical services to ineligible staff, in violation of federal law and policy, with senior leaders in the unit directing practices out of line with Pentagon guidance. The report also found White House military medical unit providers said they weren’t empowered to deny requests from senior unit leaders. 

The report found controlled substances, including opioids and sleeping medications, were “not properly accounted for,” in violation of federal regulation. The White House Medical Unit used handwritten notes to track inventory for controlled substances, which accounted for frequent errors, the report said. The report found the unit dispensed Ambien without verifying patients’ identities and purchased brand-name Ambien, which costs 174 times more than the generic brand. The report said the medical unit also purchased brand-name Provigil, another sleep aid that costs far more than its generic counterpart. The White House Medical Unit also improperly disposed of both controlled and non-controlled substances, the watchdog found. 

The report said these problems happened because “White House medical officials did not consider their operations to be a pharmacy.”

“Without oversight from qualified pharmacy staff, the White House medical unit’s pharmaceutical management practices might have been subject to prescribing errors,” the report said. “Additionally, the White House medical unit’s practices demonstrated inadequate medication management and increased risk to the health and safety of patients treated within the unit.”

The inspector general’s investigation was prompted by complaints in 2018 alleging that a senior military medical officer assigned to the White House Medical Unit was involved in bad medical practices. 

The report did not name names. 

The Pentagon watchdog recommended that the director of the Defense Health Agency, working with the White House Medical Unit director, develop procedures to manage controlled and non-controlled substances. 

House Lawmakers Work Towards Electing New Speaker On Capitol Hill
Rep. Ronny Jackson arrives at a House Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol on October 12, 2023, in Washington, DC.

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Sgt. Ronny Jackson, now a Republican member of Congress, led the White House Medical Unit under former President Barack Obama beginning in 2009 and then under former President Donald Trump until 2018. Trump nominated Jackson to become the secretary of Veterans Affairs in 2018, but Jackson withdrew his name after members of Congress such as Sen. Jon Tester accused Jackson of loosely dispensing sleep-related medications Ambien and Provigil. 

“In the White House,” Tester told CNN’s Anderson Cooper at the time, “they call him the ‘candy man.'” 

Trump’s White House defended Jackson. In 2021, a Pentagon inspector general report found Jackson engaged in “inappropriate conduct” while he was the top White House physician, alleging he engaged in abusive behavior, such as sexual harassment toward subordinates, and drank on duty. Jackson was never charged with any crimes.

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