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Explosive ’60 Minutes’ investigation finds Congress and drug companies worked to cripple DEA’s ability to fight opioid abuse

Published: October 17, 2017
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A joint investigation by The Washington Post and CBS’s “60 Minutes” found that members of Congress alongside the pharmaceutical industry helped fuel the opioid crisis.

Drug distributors – the three biggest of which are Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, and McKesson – are in charge of shipping drugs to pharmacies and hospitals around the US.

In recent years, the Drug Enforcement Administration has cracked down on distributors when they’re sending too many opioids to a particular location. In response, the distributors pay a fine and keep on doing business.

But in 2016, Congress passed a law that made it harder for the DEA to impose those fines, the investigation found.

“The drug industry, the manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors and chain drugstores, have an influence over Congress that has never been seen before,” Joseph Rannazzisi, the former chief of the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control, told The Post.

The Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act aimed to improve enforcement around prescription-drug abuse and diversion. But it also raised the standard of proof that the DEA needed to crack down on a drug company’s pain-pill distribution, making it more difficult for the agency to enforce fines against the companies.

The chief architect of the law, the investigation found, was Rep. Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, a Republican whom President Donald Trump nominated to lead the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, a position commonly referred to as the nation’s “drug czar.” Marino on Tuesday withdrew his name from consideration, Trump tweeted, adding that Marino was “a fine man and a great Congressman.”

Marino introduced the bill in 2014, after which it went through two years of back-and-forth, delays, and opposition from the DEA. By the time it became law, neither the DEA nor the Justice Department objected to the bill, though the DEA had for years fought against it.

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