Dec 15, 2017

New drug law hampers opioid crackdown efforts, DEA officials say

An arrangement of pills of the opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen in New York. Photo / Patrick Sison / AP

A new law backed by opioid distributors and manufacturers is making it harder for the Drug Enforcement Administration to hold companies accountable for violating drug laws, according to retired DEA investigators.

The officials' accounts are the latest component of a deep-rooted investigation by the Washington Post and "60 Minutes," which initially exposed how the drug legislation was derailing the DEA's efforts to crack down on the opioid epidemic. That investigation ultimately led to the withdrawal of Rep. Tom Marino's drug czar nomination.

Why it matters: The opioid epidemic "claimed nearly 200,000 lives between 2000 and 2016," according to the Post.

Background:

  • The Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016 was passed in Congress by a group of lawmakers supported by powerful drug companies.
  • Marino was the bill's main sponsor in the House, and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) negotiated its final version with the DEA in the Senate.
  • Prior to the law, the DEA was able to immediately suspend drug shipments that posed an “imminent danger" to the community. Now the DEA must prove that a company’s actions represent “a substantial likelihood of an immediate threat,” according to the Post. The law also allows companies to submit “corrective action plans” before the DEA can sanction them, something one retired DEA employee called a "get out of jail free card."

What they're saying: DEA investigators say the law has undermined their agency and thwarted several of their efforts, such as stopping suspicious shipments of prescription pain pills and enforcing pharmaceuritical regulations.

The other side: Defenders of the law argue it protects patients' access to necessary prescriptions by encouraging cooperation between the DEA and drug companies. “This was an effort to ensure that DEA’s praiseworthy efforts to stem abuse don’t end up hurting legitimate patients,” Hatch said during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday.

What's next: The DEA investigators' full interviews with the Washington Post and "60 Minutes" will be published and broadcast on Sunday.

Go deeper

Updated 8 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 11:30 p.m. ET: 6,889,889 — Total deaths: 399,642 — Total recoveries — 3,085,326Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 11:30 p.m. ET: 1,920,061 — Total deaths: 109,802 — Total recoveries: 500,849 — Total tested: 19,778,873Map.
  3. Public health: Why the pandemic is hitting minorities harder — Coronavirus curve rises in FloridaHow racism threatens the response to the pandemic Some people are drinking and inhaling cleaning products in attempt to fight the virus.
  4. Tech: The pandemic is accelerating next-generation disease diagnostics — Robotics looks to copy software-as-a-service model.
  5. Business: Budgets busted by coronavirus make it harder for cities to address inequality Sports, film production in California to resume June 12 after 3-month hiatus.
  6. Education: Students and teachers flunked remote learning.

George Floyd updates

Protesters in Washington, D.C. on June 6. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Tens of thousands of demonstrators are rallying in cities across the U.S. and around the world to protest the killing of George Floyd. Huge crowds have assembled in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Chicago for full-day events.

Why it matters: Twelve days of nationwide protest in the U.S. has built pressure for states to make changes on what kind of force law enforcement can use on civilians and prompted officials to review police conduct. A memorial service was held for Floyd in Raeford, North Carolina, near where he was born. Gov. Roy Cooper ordered all flags to fly at half-staff to honor him until sunset.

Updated 3 hours ago - World

In photos: People around the world rally against racism

Despite a ban on large gatherings implemented in response to the coronavirus pandemic, protesters rally against racism in front of the American Embassy in Paris on June 6. Photo: Julien Mattia/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Tens of thousands of people have continued to rally in cities across the world against racism and show their support this week for U.S. demonstrators protesting the death in police custody of George Floyd.

Why it matters: The tense situation in the U.S. has brought the discussion of racism and discrimination onto the global stage at a time when most of the world is consumed by the novel coronavirus.