Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) unveiled legislation Monday aimed at helping the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) improve its ability to stop suspicious shipments of opioids from flooding communities.
Manchin’s bill changes a law that drew a firestorm of criticism after an explosive “60 Minutes”–Washington Post joint investigation reported the bill made it harder for the DEA to freeze opioid shipments from drug companies in the midst of a full-blown crisis.
The news reports named Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) as the chief advocate for the law, called the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act. He withdrew his nomination to serve as White House drug czar after receiving pushback over his role in the bill, which he argues hasn’t been framed correctly.
Manchin said the legislation wrongly weakened the DEA’s ability to enforce the nation’s drug laws.
“This bill will make sure that the DEA regains the legal authority that was wrongly stripped from the agency in 2016 to ensure that they can go after companies taking advantage of the system, including those companies that send millions of opioid pills to tiny towns in West Virginia,” Manchin said in a press release.
Marino has argued that the specific language in question originated in the upper chamber. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who introduced the bill in the Senate, has said that that provision came from lawyers with the DEA and Department of Justice.
Supporters of the legislation, which passed without opposition from Congress in 2016, said they were aiming to make the rules clearer while quashing complaints of an overly aggressive DEA so as to try to assure legitimate patients received the drugs they need.
Opponents of the measure have argued the bill was a gift to the drug industry and weakened a DEA enforcement tool.
Joseph Rannazzisi, a DEA official who headed its Office of Diversion Control until 2015, appeared on camera in the “60 Minutes” report and told The Hill previously that he had aired his concerns about the measure with Congress in 2014 and 2015.
Since the news reports, DEA officials have told Congress that they support changing the legislation. Lawmakers sought information on what changes the Justice Department and DEA wanted, and at times had expressed frustration that the answer was taking months.
At a press conference in early February, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said “they have refused to share with us the information we need.”
Last week, the Justice Department wrote Walden recommending how the 2016 bill be altered. Manchin’s legislation would fulfill the department’s recommendations.
“The Drug Enforcement Agency is our first line of defense in preventing pharmaceutical companies from flooding the market with opioids and taking advantage of a nation ravaged by this deadly epidemic,” Manchin, who is up for reelection in 2018 in a state Trump won, said in a statement.
In addition, Walden’s committee has also been asking the DEA why the number of immediate suspension orders to freeze suspicious shipments of opioids began declining from 65 in 2011 to five in 2015.