In April 2016, at the height of the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history, Congress stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration of its most potent weapon against drug companies suspected of spilling prescription narcotics onto the nation’s streets, the Washington Post and “Sixty Minutes” report. The opioid war had claimed 200,000 lives, more than three times the number of U.S. military deaths in the Vietnam War. Overdose deaths continue to rise. A few members of Congress, allied with major drug distributors, prevailed on the the Justice Department to agree to a more industry-friendly law, undermining efforts to stanch the flow of pain pills. 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,” say the Post and “60 Minutes.” The industry worked behind the scenes with lobbyists and key members of Congress, pouring more than a million dollars into their election campaigns. The chief advocate of the law that hobbled the DEA was Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), President Trump’s nominee to become the next drug czar. Marino spent years trying to move the law through Congress. It passed after Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-UT) negotiated a final version with the DEA. The new law makes it virtually impossible for the DEA to freeze suspicious narcotic shipments from the firms according to federal documents and an independent assessment by the DEA’s chief administrative law judge in a soon-to-be-published law review article.