More se­na­tors ask about DEA’s slow opi­oid ac­tion

The Washington Post - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY LENNY BERN­STEIN AND SCOTT HIGHAM leonard.bern­[email protected]­post.com scott.higham @wash­post.com

Seven more se­na­tors de­manded in­for­ma­tion Fri­day about a steep de­cline in en­force­ment ac­tions by the Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion against large whole­sale com­pa­nies that dis­trib­ute opi­oid painkiller­s.

Six Democrats and one in­de­pen­dent ex­pressed “se­ri­ous con­cern” that “over the last few years, the [DEA] has scaled back its en­force­ment ef­forts” against dis­trib­u­tors who vi­o­late laws de­signed to pre­vent painkiller­s from fall­ing into the hands of il­licit drug users.

In a four-page let­ter to At­tor­ney Gen­eral Loretta E. Lynch and the DEA’s act­ing ad­min­is­tra­tor, Chuck Rosen­berg, the se­na­tors cited the find­ings of a Wash­ing­ton Post in­ves­ti­ga­tion pub­lished last week­end.

“The al­le­ga­tions in the Wash­ing­ton Post ar­ti­cle are es­pe­cially trou­bling given the opi­oid-abuse epi­demic that is claim­ing nearly 30,000 lives in the United States an­nu­ally,” they wrote.

The let­ter was signed by Demo­cratic Sens. Ed­ward J. Markey (Mass.), Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), Joe Manchin III ( W.Va.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Tammy Bald­win ( Wis.), Richard Blu­men­thal (Conn.) and in­de­pen­dent Bernie Sanders ( Vt.). On Wed­nes­day, Sens. Pa­trick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ron Wy­den (D-Ore.) sent a sim­i­lar re­quest to Lynch.

A Jus­tice Depart­ment spokesman said the depart­ment would re­view the let­ter. The DEA did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to an email re­quest­ing com­ment.

The Post re­ported Sun­day that be­gin­ning in 2013, DEA lawyers started to delay and block en­force­ment ef­forts against large opi­oid dis­trib­u­tors and oth­ers, re­quir­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tors in the field to meet a much higher bur­den of proof be­fore they could take ac­tion.

About 165,000 peo­ple died of over­doses caused by pre­scrip­tion nar­cotics be­tween 2000 and 2014, and tens of thou­sands more suc­cumbed to over­doses of heroin and fen­tanyl, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion.

Five for­mer su­per­vi­sors from the DEA’s Di­ver­sion Con­trol Di­vi­sion told The Post that they were frus­trated by the sharp drop in en­force­ment ac­tions. The su­per­vi­sors’ con­cerns were echoed in reports filed by the DEA’s chief ad­min­is­tra­tive law judge.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors said they un­suc­cess­fully con­fronted Clif­ford Lee Reeves II, the at­tor­ney in charge of the DEA unit that ap­proves ad­min­is­tra­tive cases against peo­ple and com­pa­nies sus­pected of di­vert­ing painkiller­s to the black mar­ket.

On Fri­day, the se­na­tors asked whether ac­tions against painkiller dis­trib­u­tors and oth­ers had in­deed dropped from 131 in 2011 to 40 in 2014 — the Jus­tice Depart­ment fig­ures cited by The Post — and if so, why. They re­quested an ex­pla­na­tion for the higher stan­dard im­posed on in­ves­ti­ga­tors in the field and sought in­for­ma­tion about whether com­pa­nies had turned to then-Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral James M. Cole for re­lief from DEA ef­forts.

CHIP SO­MOD­EV­ILLA/GETTY IMAGES

Law­mak­ers ex­pressed “se­ri­ous con­cern” in a let­ter to At­tor­ney Gen­eral Loretta E. Lynch.

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