The Trump Administration declared the crisis of opioid and heroin overdoses a national emergency in August this year. As it turns out, though, identifying an emergency doesn’t necessarily mean the government is quick to take any action.
In fact, a Washington Post investigative report shows just how the government is making the situation worse, while many people continue to die.
How Many People Have Died From The Opioid Crisis?
As October winds down, there’s still been no official order to combat the deadliest drug epidemic in the nation’s history. By the government’s own reporting, an estimated 65,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2016, most of which were the result of prescription painkillers and heroin laced with the fentanyl.
Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse
Congressman Tom Marino (R-PA.) withdrew his nomination for the nation’s drug czar after investigative reporters Scott Hingham and Lenny Bernstein, along with “60 Minutes,” found he authored and pushed legislation making it all but impossible for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to freeze large, suspicious orders of prescription painkillers.
Does Big Pharma Influence Congress?
“The drug industry, the manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors and chain drug stores, have an influence over Congress that has never been seen before,” Joseph T. Rannazzisi, former chief of DEA’s office of diversion control, told Washington Post reporters.
Public records show that between 2014 and 2016, as the opioid crisis ravaged large swaths of the country and devastated hundreds of thousands of lives, pharmaceutical companies and other affiliated industries spent in excess of $102 million to lobby for less opioid regulation.
This includes $32.5 million from CVS Health, a national pharmacy chain that in September pledged to fill fewer opioid prescriptions in light the addiction and overdose crisis.
“I mean, to get Congress to pass a bill to protect [the pharmaceutical industry’s] interest in the height of an opioid epidemic just shows me how much influence they have,” Rannazzisi said.
The Bill That Passed in Congress
The bill – Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act – which the DEA has been fervently opposed to in previous years, passed both houses by unanimous vote and was signed by then president Barack Obama. Chuck Rosenberg, head of the DEA at the time, has refused to comment on the bill and most legislators admit to not understanding the true consequences of the law they voted to enact.
Senator Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), who received $177,000 in donations from political action committees representing the pharmaceutical industry, worked with the DEA on the final version of the bill. Hatch is one of 23 elected politicians that received contributions from these same PACs.
“DEA had plenty of opportunities to stop the bill and they did not do so,” Matt Whitlock, Hatch’s spokesman, told The Post.
Representatives for the pharmaceutical industry argue that patients with chronic pain, because of cancer or other diseases, need the bill to ensure they get their pain management medications. Law enforcement officials across the country aren’t convinced.
Attorneys General in 41 states have joined forces to investigate the pharmaceutical industry. Meanwhile, hundreds of municipalities and counties have taken to suing drug companies they believe are complicit in decimating segments of their communities.
In the midst of all the turmoil is failed healthcare legislation that’s likely to leave scores of Americans who are battling addiction without insurance that might otherwise cover treatment for addiction, which is a treatable disease.
“This is an industry that’s out of control,” Rannazzisi said. “If they don’t follow the law in drug supply, and diversion occurs, people die. That’s just it, people die. And what they’re saying is, ‘The heck with your compliance. We’ll just get the laws changed.'”