Following the publication of a pair of reports that shed light on the role Donald Trump’s pick for drug czar, Representative Tom Marino, played in fueling the opioid crisis, Marino withdrew his name from consideration on Tuesday.
Over the weekend, The Washington Post and CBS’s 60 Minutes published the findings of their joint investigation into the root causes of an American opioid epidemic that has claimed 200,000 lives over the last two decades.
What the outlets concluded is that distributors — the companies that ship the pills to clinics and pharmacies — work hand in hand with Congress and industry lobbyists. As 60 Minutes wrote, they are “providing the rocket fuel” for a crisis that has no end in sight.
Whistleblower Joe Rannazzisi, who used to run the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Office of Diversion Control, the unit that oversees the pharmaceutical industry, says the distributors are simply out to make money and ignore regulations designed to prevent what the DEA terms “suspicious orders” from being shipped out.
“This is an industry 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,” Rannazzisi told 60 Minutes interviewer Bill Whitaker.
“You know the implication of what you’re saying,” Whitaker said to Rannazzisi, “that these big companies knew that they were pumping drugs into American communities that were killing people.”
The whistleblower responded: “That’s not an implication, that’s a fact. That’s exactly what they did.”
Rannazzisi claims the biggest blow to the DEA’s efforts to combat the opioid crisis came in 2016 when a law that essentially defanged the agency breezed through Congress and was signed into law by President Barack Obama. That law significantly lessened investigators’ ability to freeze drug shipments they deemed suspicious.
One of the main sponsors of that bill was Representative Marino, who until Tuesday was in line to become Trump’s director of National Drug Control Policy—a position commonly referred to as “drug czar.” It was reported that Trump felt immediate pressure to drop Marino following the weekend’s dual publications.
It was also reported this week that President Trump — again, directly following the investigation by The Post and 60 Minutes — will soon declare the opioid crisis a national emergency, giving the federal government additional authority to combat the epidemic.