It is no secret that we are enduring a growing national opiod health crisis. In August President Trump declared it was “a problem the likes of which we have never seen.” And yet, he proposed no new policies to combat our rising rates of drug overdose deaths, and Secretary of Health Tom Price confirmed that the White House was not ready to declare a state of emergency (fortune.com Aug. 8, 2017). According to a Fortune survey 37 percent of Americans know someone addicted to prescription opioids or painkillers, but that respondents still blame users ahead of doctors or pharmaceutical companies.

It is no secret that we are enduring a growing national opiod health crisis. In August President Trump declared it was “a problem the likes of which we have never seen.” And yet, he proposed no new policies to combat our rising rates of drug overdose deaths, and Secretary of Health Tom Price confirmed that the White House was not ready to declare a state of emergency (fortune.com Aug. 8, 2017).  According to a Fortune survey 37 percent of Americans know someone addicted to prescription opioids or painkillers, but that respondents still blame users ahead of doctors or pharmaceutical companies.
However a recent report by 60 Minutes and the Washington Post, declares that much of the blame does indeed lie with the pharmaceutical industry and the revolving door between industry and government agencies. We tend to think of corruption as being an overseas problem, so I was shocked  when I heard the report last month that chronicled the greed of our country’s largest drug distributors: McKesson, CardinalHealth and AmerisourceBergen. In 2008 fines were paid by the two largest: McKesson - $13.2 million and CardinalHealth - $34 million.
By law, drug distributors are required to report any unusually large opiod order, but they have ignored this requirement for years. And more recently they have actively fought against it, using their money and influence to pressure DEA attorneys. As former DEA lawyers, enticed by drug money, switched sides, the “war on drugs” ground to a halt. Suddenly supervisors stopped approving cases for trial, but the Justice Department was not advised of this shift in policy as it should have been.
These former DEA attorneys, with intimate knowledge of the workings of the Drug Enforcement Agency, have given the drug distributors a new weapon in their war to maximize their profits. Linden Barber, previously an associate chief counsel in the DEA and now a senior VP at CardinalHealth, wrote a bill stripping the DEA of its most potent tool - their ability to freeze suspicious drug shipments. Tom Marino (PA) and Marsha Blackburn (TN) co-sponsored the bill and pushed it through Congress two years ago, falsely claiming the DEA was out of control and patients could no longer obtain the pain relief they needed.
Without opposition from corrupted officials at the DEA, the “Marino” bill sailed through both houses of Congress by “unanimous consent.” Now it is all but impossible to prosecute distributors for sending millions of doses of narcotics to the “pain clinics” which dot our nation’s countryside. A day after this story broke, Tom Marino, the author of the now-infamous drug bill, withdrew his name for consideration as America’s Drug Czar, and our own Claire McCaskill has introduced a bill to revoke Marino’s disastrous bill.
The CDC says “We now know that overdoses from prescription opioids are a driving factor in the 15-year increase in opioid overdose deaths. The amount of prescription opioids sold to pharmacies, hospitals, and doctors’ offices nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2010, yet there had not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans reported.”
On Oct. 26, over two months after his first briefing, President Trump declared “No part of our society — not young or old, rich or poor, urban or rural — has been spared this plague of drug addiction and this horrible, horrible situation that’s taken place with opioids.” And still he has not kept his promise to declare a national emergency, nor has he allocated any additional funds. (nytimes.com/OCT. 26, 2017) It is time to get past the bluster and develop a sound policy to deal with our disgraceful national crisis. This includes demanding that Congress revoke the shameful Marino/Blackburn bill that ties the hand of the FDA.

Catherine Rhoades writes a column for the Neosho Daily News.