After news broke that a bill he sponsored could have fueled the opioid epidemic, Rep. Tom Marino withdrew himself from consideration as drug czar for the Trump administration, according to a tweet from the president on Tuesday morning. President Trump wrote, "Rep. Tom Marino has informed me that he is withdrawing his name from consideration as drug czar. Tom is a fine man and a great Congressman!" Just Monday, Trump had said he'd look into Marino's nomination given the stinging report by The Washington Post and 60 Minutes on Sunday.
The report detailed the Drug Enforcement Administration's role in the rise of the epidemic, and how Congress and Washington, D.C., helped make the agency less effective in the fight to keep legitimate prescription drugs, many of them addictive, controlled in the supply chain to doctors and pharmacies and out of the hands of addicts.
One big part of that was the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, which was sponsored by Marino. The DEA used to stop big shipments of narcotics that seemed to be destined for illegal use. Over the years some pharmacies in rural counties with small populations in the tens of thousands would receive millions of pills at a time. When the DEA saw this, it could stop it easily by halting the shipment.
But under the new bill, they could only stop a shipment of drugs if there was "imminent danger" to the community, as the bill is worded, meaning that there must be a "substantial likelihood of an immediate threat that death, serious bodily harm, or abuse of a controlled substance will occur in the absence of an immediate suspension of the registration." That all but ties the DEA's hand, the investigation shows.
All of Congress and President Obama arguably take the blame too. There was no debate of the bill on the floor in either chamber, it was passed without objection, and was signed by the president. Those are mistakes. But according to The Post and 60 Minutes investigation, almost no one understood the potential danger except the co-sponsors. Furthermore it was Marino's ongoing support for the bill that brought it to life. He had worked on passing some form of the bill for years.
To give you an idea of what this means, consider what Joseph T. Rannazzisi, told The Post and 60 Minutes. He's was in charge of regulating the drug industry at the DEA until he was pushed out of the agency in 2015. "The drug industry, the manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors and chain drugstores, have an influence over Congress that has never been seen before," he said. "I mean, to get Congress to pass a bill to protect their interests in the height of an opioid epidemic just shows me how much influence they have.”
Among those who have received financial contributions for the drug industry were 23 lawmakers who sponsored or co-sponsored various versions of this bill over the years. That totaled $1.5 million or more with Marino getting almost $100,000.
That report led Trump to address the matter on Monday. Asked about Marino's role in the bill and epidemic and his nomination as drug czar at a news conference, Trump told reporters, "If I think it's 1 percent negative to doing what we want to do, I will make a change." He added, speaking of Marino, "He's a good man. I have not spoken to him, but I will speak to him, and I'll make that determination."
According to the tweet, the move was Marino's but Trump's willingness to "make a change" may have played into his decision.