The decision by Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., to withdraw as American’s drug czar nominee followed exposure of one of his signature legislative bills that, when enacted, severely hindered the Drug Enforcement Administration in three critical ways.
Those handicaps contributed significantly to the nation’s current epidemic by pumping more painkillers into parts of the country that were already in the middle of the opioid crisis.
Fox News reports:
The measure, called the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, passed with little debate or dissent in the spring of 2016, even as Congress and then-President Barack Obama declared opioid addiction a national crisis.
Just months before the now-notorious bill became law, Obama unveiled a federal initiative to combat the opioid crisis, saying: “This crisis is taking lives, it’s destroying families, it’s shattering communities all across the country. And that’s the thing about substance abuse – it doesn’t discriminate.”
Marino, a former county and federal prosecutor, in 2014 introduced the bill, which some federal and local officials saw as a gift to big drug distributors like Cardinal Health, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen. Many DEA officials vehemently fought the bill, according to a CBS News-Washington Post investigation. Major pharmaceutical companies campaigned for it.
Marino, who ironically represents a district that was especially hard hit by opioid overdoses, at one point argued in a House Judiciary Committee hearing that the DEA was wrong to go after drug companies as it they were “illicit narcotics cartels.”
“The mindset – it’s extremely dangerous to legitimate business,” Marino said.
The bill – cosponsored by more than a dozen Republicans – took aim at some of the DEA’s most potent tools in going after opioid distributors shoveling vast quantities of opioid pills to sleazy pain clinics.
The final version of the bill was in large part shaped by a former DEA lawyer, D. Linden Barber, who at the time was an advocate on behalf of the drug industry. The measure rendered it virtually impossible for the government to freeze suspicious drug shipments from major pharmaceutical companies; allowed drug companies to delay or avoid enforcement action by submitting a corrective plan if the DEA finds it has acted with misconduct; and raised the bar for suspending a drug company’s license if the agency believes there is an imminent danger to the public.
At the time, the most often cited statistic reflecting the crisis was that more than 37,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2013, and 16,000 of them were traced to prescription painkillers.
The Post-CBS report said that political action committees representing the industry gave more than $1.5 million to the 23 members of Congress — Republicans and Democrats — who sponsored or co-sponsored various versions of the bill. Marino received about $100,000, the reports said.
In addition, the industry spent $106 million in efforts to lobby Congress.
The industry also recruited people who worked for the DEA and knew how to navigate the agency, the Post said. After the agency stepped up its crackdown on the industry, drug companies and law firms working for them hired at least 46 DEA officials.
DEA Chief Administrative Law Judge John J. Mulrooney II wrote in an article for a law review that the Post obtained a draft “At a time when, by all account, opioid abuse, addiction and deaths were increasing markedly,” and the new law “imposed a dramatic diminution of the agency’s authority.”
Mulrooney said the law made it impossible to shut down a drug company that was violating federal rules regarding opioids.
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