The opioid epidemic continues to rage in the United States. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), “Drug overdoses have become the leading cause of death of Americans under 50, with two-thirds of those deaths from opioids. In near-desperation, several municipalities have brought lawsuits against the drug manufacturers that produce millions of doses of the most commonly prescribed opioids, including oxycodone (OxyContin and Percocet) and hydrocodone (Vicodin).
Giant drug companies wield a lot of power in Washington, DC. “Big Pharma” is the nickname given to the vast global pharmaceutical industry and its trade group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America or PhRMA. In 2016, an array of drug companies pushed the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act through Congress, reported the Washington Post, a new law that has makes it “increasingly difficult to hold drug companies accountable when they run afoul of the nation’s drug laws.”
The Post called the new law “the drug industry’s triumph over the DEA,” because it makes it virtually impossible for the DEA to use “immediate suspension orders” to freeze suspicious narcotic shipments, preventing the agency from immediately preventing drugs from reaching the street. The inevitable result? For just one example, in January the Washington Post reported, “The House Energy and Commerce Committee … said it discovered that two drug distribution companies had shipped more than 20 million pain pills to two pharmacies four blocks apart in Williamson, W.Va., a town with a population of 2,900.”
Opposition to the law has been mounting. In November, two former DEA officials and a former DEA lawyer, told a Senate hearing that morale and effectiveness had plummeted in DEA field offices as investigators have felt the impact of the law and a slowdown in enforcement by DEA lawyers. “Reinstate the immediate suspension orders,” said former DEA lawyer Jonathan P. Novak. “I think the DEA needs to get back on its feet and start enforcing.” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, 44 state attorneys general, former DEA officials, and several lawmakers have called for repeal or amendment of the law to restore some of the DEA’s authority.
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