Opioid Deaths, Congressional Cash
by Bob Gatty.
South Carolina, and Horry County in particular, are in the midst of a terrible opioid crisis that is claiming the lives of those who have become addicted to prescription pain killers.
Horry County, in fact, now leads South Carolina in opioid deaths, as 101 people died of opioid overdoses in 2016, according to the Department of Health and Environmental Control, one-fifth of the 550 deaths that occurred statewide.
Nationwide, more people have died from prescription pain killer abuse than in all of the Vietnam War. Yet, a Pennsylvania Congressman who was nominated by President Trump to become the nation’s next drug czar, and other members of Congress who received money from the drug industry, managed to pass a law that now hamstrings the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) as it tries to prevent those drugs from reaching the street.
That’s the conclusion of an investigation by The Washington Post and “60 Minutes”, which was reported Oct. 15.
The chief advocate of the law, long sought by the drug industry, was Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), who received nearly $100,000 from pharmaceutical companies, according to the report. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who negotiated the final version of the bill with DEA, received $177,000, the report said. Overall, the industry contributed some $1.5 million to the 23 members of Congress who sponsored or co-sponsored the bill.
Once the investigation by The Post and “60 Minutes” was made public, Marino withdrew his name from consideration for the post.
The law makes it virtually impossible for the DEA to block suspicious narcotics shipments from companies, setting a higher bar that the agency must meet before taking enforcement actions. Long sought by the industry, it was originally opposed by the DEA.
But that’s just part of the story.
At the DEA, Associate Chief Counsel D. Linden Barber helped design and carry out the DEA’s tough enforcement policy against drug companies that were failing to report suspicious orders for narcotics. But Barber left the DEA and now represents pharmaceutical companies who have been targeted by the DEA. He is one of dozens of DEA officials recruited by the industry over the past decade.
Now, Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-WV) had called upon Trump to withdraw Marino’s nomination to lead the Office of Drug Control Policy, a position that requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate. Manchin said he was “horrified” to read the details of the investigation by The Post and “60 Minutes.”
In addition, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) said she would introduce legislation to repeal the Marino bill, the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016. She said the law “has significantly affected the government’s ability to crack down on opioid distributors that are failing to meet their obligations and endangering our communities.”
It is incredible that while our nation, our state and our county are suffering from this deadly epidemic, Washington lawmakers who are supposed to be working on our behalf actually are working for the industry that is profiting from these deaths.
President Trump now says he will make an announcement next week about the opioid crisis, another positive response to the power of the free press.
It’s past time for South Carolina’s public officials, including those in Congress, to wake up and join the fight against opioid deaths.
Bob Gatty, a Carolina Forest resident, is Communications Coordinator for the Horry County Democratic Party. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.