Ironically, it will be the areas of the country that voted Trump into power that are set to suffer the most from Trump’s decision to keep the DEA toothless, suggesting that Trump cares more about protecting corporate profits than protecting his base.
WASHINGTON – In March, President Donald Trump outlined for the first time a broad plan aimed at combating the country’s opioid crisis, which kills an estimated 116 Americans every day. The plan, coming five months after he declared the epidemic a “national health emergency,” included an ad campaign discouraging drug use, expanding addiction treatment, and emphasizing a law-enforcement crackdown on those who deal or illegally manufacture prescription opioids. A few weeks earlier, Trump had also intimated that executing drug dealers would be another possible way to resolve the crisis.
However, despite Trump’s tough rhetoric aimed at those who directly enable the country’s devastating prescription drug epidemic, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) under his administration continues to willfully grant licenses to admitted addicts, drug dealers and corrupt health providers.
According to an investigation by the Daily Caller, the DEA, for much of the last decade, has been issuing controlled-substance licenses to questionable individuals, including people currently in prison as well as dead people, causing the number of individuals and organizations with such licenses to balloon from 510,000 in 2006 to more than 1.7 million as of March 2018. Meanwhile, the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control, which is responsible for issuing and revoking the licenses, has revoked only 240 licenses and denied only 106 over that same period.
Some of the most egregious examples detailed in the Daily Caller’s investigation include granting a license to prescribe drugs to a dentist with “a history of substance abuse” and who had helped illegally manufacture methamphetamine with an “outlaw motorcycle gang” a decade earlier. In another case, a doctor who had been twice arrested for distributing cocaine and prescription drugs, the last of which occurred in 2003, was granted a controlled-substance license in 2009, just six years later.
In addition, more than 760 of those holding controlled-substance licenses were either reported dead, had been denied permission to distribute controlled substances at the state level, or were incarcerated for felony offenses related to controlled substances.
One of the likely reasons for the DEA’s willingness to grant licenses is that the Office of Diversion Control is fully funded by the licensees’ application fees, meaning that the office has a vested interest in increasing the number of people who apply for and receive controlled-substance licenses. In 2013, the agency earned $328 million in licensing fees. However, the more likely culprit is the strong influence of the pharmaceutical industry and its sway over politicians who have sought to transform the agency from a watchdog into an accomplice.
Office of Diversion Facilitation?
The DEA’s Office of Diversion Control has been the subject of scrutiny for some time, particularly after some top officials with the office turned whistleblowers and exposed the office’s near complete inability to prosecute large pharmaceutical companies or pharmaceutical distributors for their role in fomenting the crisis.
One of those whistleblowers, Joe Rannazzisi – former head of the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control – went public with his story last year, when he detailed the role of drug distributors and major pharmaceutical companies in intentionally fueling the crisis while industry lobbyists and Congress worked to strip the DEA of its ability to stop the flow of opioids towards unintended, illicit uses.
Rannazzisi pointed specifically to a 2016 law called the “Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act,” which was drafted with the help of top DEA officials along with pharmaceutical industry lobbyists. The resulting law, according to Rannazzisi, makes it “virtually impossible for the DEA to freeze suspicious narcotic shipments from the [pharmaceutical] companies” and shields industry profits from potential DEA fines for diversion infractions.
One of the Congressmen that helped enable that piece of legislation, Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), was named by Trump to be drug czar late last year even though he worked to weaken the DEA’s oversight capabilities. Marino, who is heavily funded by the pharmaceutical industry, withdrew his nomination after Rannazzisi and others exposed his links to the industry. Following news of his withdrawal from the nomination, Trump called Marino “a fine man and a great congressman.”
Trump does more to liberate Big Pharma’s profits than liberate the country from opioids
While Trump has been touting his new plan to “liberate” the country from the opioid epidemic, he has failed to tackle the roots of the problem, namely the pharmaceutical industry and the ineffectiveness of the government agencies tasked with overseeing them. Trump’s renewed call to increase the prosecution of small-time drug dealers will prove ineffective, as the DEA continues to give drug dealers, addicts and other unqualified people licenses to dispense opioids, a dangerous practice that is left unmentioned by Trump’s plan to tackle the crisis.
With overdose deaths spiking by 30 percent in just the last year, Trump’s plan to tackle the opioid crisis shows that the biggest criminals who enable the epidemic will be able to continue their activities unabated while the president sends the failed “War on Drugs” into overdrive. Ironically, it will be the areas of the country that voted Trump into power that are set to suffer the most from Trump’s decision to keep the DEA toothless, suggesting that Trump cares more about protecting corporate profits than protecting his base.