44 states, including Ohio, ask Congress to restore DEA’s power
WASHINGTON — Ohio’s attorney general joined officials in 43 other states Tuesday in asking Congress to repeal a law 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 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 demise of the 2016 law — the subject of a joint investigation by “60 Minutes” and The Washington Post — made it harder for the DEA to halt suspicious narcotic shipments. The agency had used that tool to prevent flooding the market. The measure was described as an effort to ensure that patients who needed pain pills had access.
But the law, the attorneys general said, “neither safeguards patient access to medication nor allows for effective drug enforcement efforts.”
In a statement, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said 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.” In May, DeWine sued five of the nation’s leading drug manufacturers on behalf of Ohio.
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; it 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 the 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 Ohio Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown, who along with all Ohioans in the House voted for the bill, have since voiced concerns about the measure. Both senators said no one raised concerns about it when it was pending in the Senate. Brown has written a letter to the DEA and the Department of Health and Human Services inquiring about the law’s impact and awaits a response.