Speed Reads

opioid crisis

Trump's drug czar nominee pushed through a law kneecapping opioid prosecution, DEA officials say

Last year, Congress passed a law pushed by the pharmaceutical industry that stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of its most potent tool to fight illicit distribution of prescription opioid pain medications to shady clinics and unscrupulous doctors, The Washington Post and CBS's 60 Minutes reported Sunday night. The main sponsors and advocates of the bill were Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), whose districts are both hard-hit by the opioid epidemic. Blackburn is running for Senate, for the seat being vacated by Sen. Bob Corker (R), and Marino is President Trump's pick to be America's drug czar. Former President Barack Obama signed the law in April 2016.

60 Minutes dedicated half an hour to the story, interviewing former DEA officials, investigators, and lawyers, but mostly Joe Rannazzisi, who led the division in charge of regulation and investigation of the pharmaceutical industry and, according to CBS News, "one of the most important whistleblowers ever interviewed by 60 Minutes." He was sidelined and retired after a concerted push by Marino and, he and others suggested, drug lobbyists.

Rannazzisi told 60 Minutes that as opioid-overdose deaths continued to rise sharply, his division turned from prosecuting just pain clinics, pharmacists, and doctors who were illegally selling opioids to targeting the distributors that "allowed millions and millions of drugs to go into bad pharmacies and doctors' offices, that distributed them out to people who had no legitimate need for those drugs." He named names. His interpretation of Marino's bill is shared by Chief DEA Administrative Law Judge John J. Mulrooney II.

You can learn more about the increasing internal and external pressure on Rannazzisi and his team, the revolving door — the Marino bill was apparently written by Linden Barber, a top DEA lawyer-turned-lobbyist — and the role of distributors in the opioid food chain at 60 Minutes. Trump has still not declared the opioid epidemic a national crisis, despite saying he would in August.