Trail to opioid crisis leads straight to Congress

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When the Godfather in the Francis Ford Coppola movie is looking for some political help, he tells a lieutenant not to use one of his Italian politicians but one from another district.

The inference was the mobster had his pick of Congress to do his bidding. I thought it was typical Hollywood cynicism.

Then I saw the CBS 60 Minutes expose on the opioid epidemic on TV. It sickened me as whistleblowers in DEA explained how drug companies, drug distributors and even doctors themselves were up to their necks in the illicit distribution of opioid painkillers.

The program exposed how these drug companies literally would stop at nothing to sell more and more of these highly addictive pain pills.

First there was the campaign of camouflage. Oh, these Percocets, Oxycontins and vicodins are not addictive. Our studies show this, the drug companies said.

And doctors were persuaded this was so. Trouble doctors (the industry term) who thought it might be dangerous to overprescribe these drugs were seduced in another way.

They were asked to become “guest speakers” and paid to appear at sham events – all expenses taken care of.

But the real gem was Congress. It was not enough that the drug companies turned DEA prosecutors into corporate drug lawyers. While it got the number of suspicious drug dispensary cases to ground to a near trickle, it was not enough.

Let’s go for the Big Prize. Let’s get legislation in place to shut down the DEA altogether. And they did. It was easy. In Congress, all it takes is money, and the drug companies were making it hand over fist.

So according to the 60 Minutes profile, the money gets spread around. And the next thing you know a sweetheart bill insulates the drug companies.

This is exactly what happened, according to CBS. House Rep. Tom Marino introduced a bill called “Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act.”

Apparently the bill was to make sure the former (Ensuring Patient Access) was not impeded and the latter (Effective Drug Enforcement) was hamstrung.

By all accounts that was exactly what it did. It made it almost impossible to stop pain mills from dispensing their narcotics at will and gave the force of law to the DEA’s gag order on opioid prosecutions.

And the scariest part was Marino was in line to be the next federal “drug czar,” that is President Donald Trump’s director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Needless to say the CBS report came out on Sunday night and by Tuesday morning the Marino nomination was withdrawn.

But what can you expect when campaign finance laws have been weakened by the Supreme Court to the point that influence peddling is an open market.

There has been some good news. Coincidence or not, John Kapoor, the billionaire founder of the drug pharmaceutical company Insys, has been arrested on charges stemming from the alleged bribery of doctors to over-prescribe his painkilling – and patient-killing – drugs.

Kapoor has proclaimed his innocence and vows to fight federal charges of conspiracy to commit racketeering, mail fraud and wire fraud.

Nevertheless, it must be giving other drug company executives a severe case of loose bowels.

The most damning part of the affair to me is the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, designed solely to eviscerate the DEA’s ability to stop big drug companies from creating and killing thousands of addicts.

I understand it passed both houses with nary a nay vote.


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