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Ex-DEA Agent: Consequences of Marsha Blackburn’s Opioid Law Not ‘Unintended’ | Opinion

In 2017, Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn called for immediately addressing any “unintended consequences” of an opioid law she co-sponsored a year earlier, the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act.

The so-called unintended consequences that Blackburn mentioned amounted to a diminished capacity of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to quickly stop companies from distributing opioids and other controlled substances in violation of the Federal Controlled Substances Act.

Blackburn’s comments are disingenuous and motivated by political ambition.

The fact is: Blackburn’s law basically prohibited DEA from using an important legal tool, known as an immediate suspension order, against companies that manufacture and distribute opioids and other controlled substances.

This measure, which had been part of federal law for 40 years, allowed DEA to stop companies from continuing to do business with controlled substances if the agency determined their conduct posed an “imminent danger to the public health and safety.”

They were afforded due process under the law, but could not conduct business with controlled substances until a hearing was completed and a final order and decision were issued by the DEA Administrator. Both the immediate suspension order — reserved only for the most egregious violations — and any subsequent DEA decisions were always subject to review by federal courts.

But Blackburn’s law changed all that — and, in doing so, protected pharmaceutical companies, not the public. In effect, her law was written to shield manufacturers and distributors operating illegally.

Pharmaceutical companies win 'get-of-out-of-jail-free' card

Now, if these corporations fuel the opioid epidemic by violating the controlled substances act, immediate shutdown by government regulators is virtually impossible. It is inconceivable that this law was implemented during the worst opioid epidemic in our country’s history.

It did not stop there. Blackburn’s law also contained what amounts to a get-out-jail-free card — a provision allowing drug companies to stonewall DEA by submitting so-called corrective action plans that require time-consuming reviews by the DEA Administrator.

Regardless of the violations, companies can challenge the determination of the Administrator in order to drag out the process. This was a gift to the pharmaceutical industry, and an affront to the public that Blackburn is supposed to be serving. It happened while thousands of our relatives, friends and neighbors were dying.

Now, back to Blackburn’s “unintended consequences” — specifically, DEA’s diminished enforcement abilities.

In July 2014, before Blackburn’s bill became law, I was asked to explain to the bill sponsors and House oversight committees why DEA opposed the legislation.

I told them it would unnecessarily protect businesses that distribute controlled substances in violation of federal law and virtually eliminate DEA’s ability to protect the public from harm caused by these violations. They obviously did not like my analysis.

Two months later, Blackburn co-signed a letter to the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General accusing me of attempting to intimidate Congress by simply offering my professional opinion and judgment, as requested.

Four years later, my predictions have proven to be true. The consequences were not “unintended,” as suggested by Blackburn. Meanwhile, our country continues to suffer the unabated loss of life and the destruction of families while large corporations and Fortune 500 companies in the pharmaceutical industry are shielded from accountability.

The whole sordid saga has been fully documented by an investigation by CBS News’ “60 Minutes” and the Washington Post. I have since retired from DEA, but will continue to speak out against Blackburn’s law that helped fuel the opioid epidemic in Tennessee and America.

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