Politics

Manchin to Trump: Don't Make Marino the Drug Czar

Follows reports of legislative effort Justice Department decried

Rep. Tom Marino, the nominee to be the drug czar, is under fire for his legislative efforts on drug use. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Democratic senator from a state ravaged by opioid abuse wants President Donald Trump to pull back the nomination of Rep. Tom Marino to be the nation’s drug czar.

Citing reporting from the Washington Post, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin III said in a letter to Trump that he had concerns that Marino, a Republican from Pennsylvania, could be too favorable to the opioid industry if he were to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The Post reported that Marino spearheaded legislation that has made it more difficult for the Drug Enforcement Administration to go after distributors.

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

The Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, which was signed into law in 2016, passed the Senate and House without objection. The Justice Department said the law has effectively tied the hands of investigators by making enforcement more difficult when it comes to the wholesalers.

While no senator objected to passage of the legislation, Marino’s efforts were crucial, according to an investigation conducted by the Post and the CBS News program “60 Minutes.”

“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,” Manchin wrote in the letter to Trump. “I am grateful for the work that you have been doing to raise awareness and to promote solutions to address this deadly epidemic.”

The DEA, which is under the Justice Department, has a more enforcement and interdiction oriented approach to drug use than the ONDCP, which is under the Executive Office of the President. During the Obama administration, ONDCP became more focused on treatment. 

In a separate effort, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri is planning a move to repeal the 2016 law.

“Media reports indicate that this 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,” McCaskill said in a statement. “I’ll be introducing legislation that repeals this law and continue my work investigating the role pharmaceutical distributors played in fueling this public health crisis.”

Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va., followed suit with legislation in the House. 

“This crisis demands immediate action. The Opioid Immediate Suspension Order Act will help restore one of the most effective tools the Department of Justice had in stemming the most egregious distribution abuses,” he said in a statement. 

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