44 states, in­clud­ing Ohio, ask Congress to re­store DEA’s power

The Columbus Dispatch - - Metro&state - By Jes­sica Wehrman jwehrman@dis­patch.com @jes­si­cawehrman

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.

DeWine

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