Manchin Tells Trump To Nominate New Drug Czar After Report On Industry Sway

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) urged President Donald Trump to pick a different nominee for the so-called “Drug Czar” position after a Washington Post and “60 Minutes” investigation revealed that the current nominee, Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), was behind legislation that significantly constrained the DEA’s ability to freeze shipments of drugs such as opioids.

“I urge you to withdraw the nomination of Congressman Tom Marino to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP),” Manchin wrote to Trump Monday, adding that the new report “calls into question Congressman Marino’s ability to fill this critical role in a manner that will serve the American people and end the [opioid abuse] epidemic.”

“Congressman Marino no longer has my trust or that of the public that he will aggressively pursue the fight against opioid abuse,” he wrote.

The Post and “60 Minutes” reported, in an extensive investigation, that legislation championed by Marino and the pharmaceutical industry made it significantly more difficult for the DEA to stop potentially harmful shipments of prescription drugs. The law passed by unanimous consent in both the House and Senate and was signed into law by former President Barack Obama with minimal Executive Branch resistance.

According to the investigation:

With a few words, the new law changed four decades of DEA practice. Previously, the DEA could freeze drug shipments that posed an “imminent danger” to the community, giving the agency broad authority. Now, the DEA must demonstrate that a company’s actions represent “a substantial likelihood of an immediate threat,” a much higher bar.

“There’s no way that we could meet that burden, the determination that those drugs are going to be an immediate threat, because immediate, by definition, means right now,” [Joseph T.] Rannazzisi [former chief of the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control] said.

(Read the Post and “60 Minutes'” full investigation here.)

Manchin wrote that he’d observed the death toll in his home state increase with the millions of pills shipped in by wholesale drug distributors.

“Despite these devastating numbers and the human lives lost as a result,” Manchin wrote to Trump, “the legislation that Congressman Marino pushed has tied the hands of the DEA in their efforts to enforce our nation’s laws and ensure that these wholesalers and other industry actors alert authorities to these suspicious orders instead of simply profiting from them.

Manchin added of Marino: “His advocacy for this legislation demonstrates that Congressman Marino either does not fully understand the scope and devastation of this epidemic or ties to industry overrode those concerns. Either option leaves him unfit to serve as the head of the ONDCP.”

Read Manchin’s letter below:

Dear Mr. President,

As you know, our nation is being devastated by the opioid epidemic. In 2015, we lost more than 33,000 Americans to opioid overdoses and early estimates indicate that that number was significantly higher in 2016. No state in the nation has been harder hit than mine. I have seen this epidemic destroy families and communities throughout West Virginia. In 2016 alone, we lost more than 700 West Virginians to an opioid overdose. That is why it is so important that we work together and do everything in our power to end this crisis.

That is also why I urge you to withdraw the nomination of Congressman Tom Marino to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). ONDCP is at the forefront of our national effort to stop opioid abuse, administering crucial programs like the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program (HIDTA) and the Drug Free Communities Program. The head of this office, often called America’s Drug Czar, is a key voice in helping to push and implement strategies to prevent drug abuse, stop drug trafficking, and promote access to substance use disorder treatment. The October 15, 2017 report in the Washington Post, “The Drug Industry’s Triumph over the DEA,” however, calls into question Congressman Marino’s ability to fill this critical role in a manner that will serve the American people and end the epidemic. Congressman Marino no longer has my trust or that of the public that he will aggressively pursue the fight against opioid abuse.

Congressman Marino led the effort in Congress to move through a bill that has made it significantly harder for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to enforce our nation’s anti-drug diversion laws. For years, wholesale drug distributors were sending millions of pills into small communities – far more than was reasonably medically necessary. 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.

Despite these devastating numbers and the human lives lost as a result, the legislation that Congressman Marino pushed has tied the hands of the DEA in their efforts to enforce our nation’s laws and ensure that these wholesalers and other industry actors alert authorities to these suspicious orders instead of simply profiting from them. His advocacy for this legislation demonstrates that Congressman Marino either does not fully understand the scope and devastation of this epidemic or ties to industry overrode those concerns. Either option leaves him unfit to serve as the head of the ONDCP.

I am grateful for the work that you have been doing to raise awareness and to promote solutions to address this deadly epidemic. Too many in our communities are losing their lives, families, and futures to opioids and we need to be doing everything humanly possible to help them. That includes having an ONCDP head who is willing to take any steps necessary to stop this crisis, and that is why, again, I urge you to withdraw Congressman Marino’s nomination to serve as the head of ONDCP.

I look forward to continuing to work with you to end the opioid epidemic.

This post has been updated.

Comments
Masthead Masthead
Editor & Publisher:
Managing Editor:
Senior News Editor:
Assistant Editor:
Editor at Large:
Investigations Desk:
Senior Political Correspondent:
Senior Editor:
Reporter:
Newswriters:
Front Page Editor:
Editor for Prime & Special Projects:
General Manager & General Counsel:
Executive Publisher:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Publishing Associate:
Front-End Developer:
Senior Designer: