Congress blocked DEA action against drug companies suspected of flooding the country with prescription narcotics

“In April 2016, at the height of the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history, Congress effectively stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration of its most potent weapon against large drug companies suspected of spilling prescription narcotics onto the nation’s streets…
A handful of members of Congress, allied with the nation’s major drug distributors, prevailed upon the DEA and the Justice Department to agree to a more industry-friendly law, undermining efforts to stanch the flow of pain pills, according to an investigation by The Washington Post and “60 Minutes.” The DEA had opposed the effort for years.
The law was the crowning achievement of a multifaceted campaign by the drug industry to weaken aggressive DEA enforcement efforts against drug distribution companies that were supplying corrupt doctors and pharmacists who peddled narcotics to the black market. The industry worked behind the scenes with lobbyists and key members of Congress, pouring more than a million dollars into their election campaigns…
For years, some drug distributors were fined for repeatedly ignoring warnings from the DEA to shut down suspicious sales of hundreds of millions of pills, while they racked up billions of dollars in sales.
The new law makes it virtually impossible for the DEA to freeze suspicious narcotic shipments from the companies, according to internal agency and Justice Department documents and an independent assessment by the DEA’s chief administrative law judge in a soon-to-be-published law review article. That powerful tool had allowed the agency to immediately prevent drugs from reaching the street.” (A)

“President Donald Trump said Monday that “we’re going to be looking into” Rep. Tom Marino, the White House’s pick to be the nation’s next drug czar, after CBS’ “60 Minutes” and The Washington Post reported that the lawmaker championed a law that hobbled federal efforts to combat the abuse of opioids….
According to reporting by the Post and “60 Minutes,” Marino was the top lawmaker championing the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, legislation that the news outlets said makes it essentially impossible for the Drug Enforcement Administration to freeze suspicious narcotics shipments from drug companies. The DEA had fought against the bill, while the pharmaceutical industry lobbied hard on its behalf.” (B)

“Republican members of Congress Tom Marino of Pennsylvania and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee promoted the bill as a way to ensure that patients had access to the medication they needed…
“…. the argument that made the bill unanimously pass Congress was that “legitimate painkiller users were not getting their drugs in an efficient manner.”
“There’s nothing in the law that actually changes that at all,” Bernstein said during a conversation on “CBS This Morning.” “The evidence for that was actually sort of anecdotal. Whereas the evidence for the fact that these pills were ending up in the hands of dealers and users was quite substantial.”
Asked whether he feels as though these drug distributors are complicit in the opioid crisis, Bernstein responded, “Well, they certainly have been caught numerous times over, and over and over again, not reporting suspicious orders of these opioid pain pills from doctors and pharmacies.”” (C)

“Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., has withdrawn his name from consideration as America’s drug czar, President Trump said Tuesday. Marino is stepping back days after reports that legislation he sponsored hindered the Drug Enforcement Administration in its fight against the U.S. opioid crisis…
Marino was a main backer of the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act; among other things, the measure changed the standard for identifying dangers to local communities, from “imminent” threats to “immediate” threats. That change cramped the DEA’s authority to go after drug companies that didn’t report suspicious — and often very large — orders for narcotics.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he was “horrified” by the story, adding that he “cannot believe the last administration did not sound the alarm on how harmful that bill would be for our efforts to effectively fight the opioid epidemic.”
In a letter to the president, Manchin wrote about the ability of wholesale drug distributors to send millions of pills into small communities:
“As the report notes, one such company shipped 20 million doses of oxycodone and hydrocodone to pharmacies in West Virginia between 2007 and 2012. This included 11 million doses in one small county with only 25,000 people in the southern part of the state: Mingo County. As the number of pills in my state increased, so did the death toll in our communities, including Mingo County.”..
Manchin has co-sponsored legislation that would repeal the changes made by the 2016 law, along with Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Sen. Margaret Wood Hassan, D-N.H. “ (D)

“Mr. Marino’s withdrawal leaves three of the major federal agencies responsible for managing the opioid crisis—the White House drug-control office, the Department of Health and Human Services and the DEA—with no nominees to head them. Mr. Trump’s national opioid commission, led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, is expected to release a final report with recommendations next month.
During his news conference, Mr. Trump said that he would likely make a “major announcement” on the “drug crisis” next week.” (E)

(A) THE DRUG INDUSTRY’S TRIUMPH OVER THE DEA, by Scott Higham and Lenny Bernstein, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/investigations/dea-drug-industry-congress/?utm_term=.76234a485f43
(B) Trump: ‘Looking into’ Marino’s nomination as drug czar after report on opioid legislation, by LOUIS NELSON, http://www.politico.com/story/2017/10/16/trump-tom-marino-drug-czar-opioid-legislation-243827
(C) Washington Post reporter on how Congress may have fueled America’s opioid crisis, by LAUREN MELTZER, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/opioid-epidemic-60-minutes-washington-post-investigation-lenny-bernstein/
(D) Tom Marino, Trump’s Pick As Drug Czar, Withdraws After Damaging Opioid Report, by Bill Chappell, http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/10/17/558276546/tom-marino-trumps-pick-as-drug-czar-withdraws-after-damaging-opioid-report
(E) Trump’s Pick for Drug Czar, Tom Marino, Withdraws Name from Consideration, by Peter Nicholas, https://www.wsj.com/articles/donald-trumps-pick-for-drug-czar-tom-marino-withdraws-name-from-consideration-1508244954

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