DeWine seeks re­peal of con­tro­ver­sial drug law

43 of­fi­cials con­tend states can’t fight flood of painkillers.

Dayton Daily News - - LOCAL & STATE - By Jes­sica Wehrman Con­tact this con­tribut­ing writer at jwehrman@dis­patch.com.

Ohio At­tor­ney WASHINGTON — Gen­eral Mike DeWine has joined 43 other state at­tor­neys gen­eral to ask Congress to re­peal a law that they ar­gue has dam­aged the Drug En­force­ment Agency’s abil­ity to crack down on drug man­u­fac­tur­ers and dis­trib­u­tors that have con­trib­uted to the na­tion’s sweep­ing opi­oid epi­demic.

In a let­ter sent Tues­day to House and Se­nate lead­er­ship, the at­tor­neys gen­eral ar­gue that a bill passed by voice vote in 2016 made it more dif­fi­cult for the DEA to take ac­tion against drug com­pa­nies that were flood­ing com­mu­ni­ties with pre­scrip­tion painkillers.

The 2016 law — the sub­ject of a joint in­ves­ti­ga­tion by 60 Min­utes and the Washington Post – made it harder for the DEA to freeze sus­pi­cious nar­cotic ship­ments — a tool which the agency had used to crack down on flood­ing the mar­ket. The mea­sure was de­scribed as an ef­fort to en­sure that pa­tients who needed ac­cess to pain pills had that ac­cess.

Now, the at­tor­neys gen­eral want the bill re­pealed. The law, the let­ter said, “nei­ther safe­guards pa­tient ac­cess to med­i­ca­tion nor al­lows for ef­fec­tive drug en­force­ment ef­forts.”

“We urge you to re­peal the Act so that the pub­lic is pro­tected and dis­trib­u­tors may be held ac­count­able for their ac­tions,” the group wrote.

In a sep­a­rate state­ment, DeWine said that the na­tion needs laws “that en­able our en­force­ment com­mu­nity to hold the man­u­fac­tur­ers and dis­trib­u­tors ac­count­able for the opi­oids they have know­ingly poured into our com­mu­ni­ties.”

DeWine in May sued five of the na­tion’s lead­ing drug man­u­fac­tur­ers on be­half of the state of Ohio. Separately, John Gray, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Health­care Dis­tri­bu­tion Al­liance, a trade group rep­re­sent­ing dis­trib­u­tors such as Car­di­nal and McKes­son, ar­gued last month that the law’s im­pact has been ex­ag­ger­ated and that the law in­stead “was a mean­ing­ful com­mon-sense solution to cre­ate a path­way for in­for­ma­tion ex­change be­tween the DEA and its reg­is­trants that did not pre­vi­ously ex­ist.”

He said DEA “re­mains fully em­pow­ered to take im­me­di­ate ac­tion against a reg­is­trant if there is ‘a sub­stan­tial like­li­hood of an im­me­di­ate threat that death, se­ri­ous bod­ily harm, or abuse of a con­trolled sub­stance will oc­cur in the ab­sence of an im­me­di­ate sus­pen­sion of the reg­is­tra­tion.”

Both Sens. Rob Port­man, R–Ohio, and Sher­rod Brown, D–Ohio, who, like Ohioans in the House, sup­ported the bill via a voice vote, have voiced con­cerns about the law, with both say­ing no one raised con­cerns about it when it was pend­ing in the Se­nate. Brown has since writ­ten a let­ter to the DEA and the Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices in­quir­ing about the law’s im­pact and awaits a re­sponse to that let­ter.

RANDY LUD­LOW / THE COLUM­BUS DIS­PATCH

Ohio At­tor­ney Gen­eral Mike DeWine wants drug mak­ers to “pay up” to help fight an opi­oid cri­sis.

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