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NH delegation reacts as Trump's drug czar nominee steps aside

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 17. 2017 9:36PM
Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), nominee for White House drug czar is under scrutiny after a news investigation found the lawmaker helped steer legislation that made it harder for the government to take some enforcement actions against giant drug companies. (Bill Clark/Congressional Quarterly/Newscom/ZUMA Press/TNS)

New Hampshire’s congressional delegation praised the decision of Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Tom Marino to withdraw as the nation’s drug czar nominee for his role in passing a 2016 law that weakened federal control over opioid shipments into the U.S.

The law was adopted by both houses of Congress without any recorded votes and signed by then-President Obama without any public protest.

CBS’s “60 Minutes” aired an exposé about the law quoting former DEA whistleblowers who said the agency in 2016 dropped its long-standing opposition to this measure after it had gotten new leadership under former Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

The law makes it harder for drug enforcement officers to block suspicious shipments of opiates that can flood the black market and fuel addiction.

Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, announced plans to co-author legislation to repeal that law; she said Congress should be about the work of enhancing the crackdown on the abuse of opioids.

“In the midst of the opioid crisis that is devastating New Hampshire and states across America, we need to be strengthening — not weakening — the ability of law enforcement to go after reckless opioid distributors that put our communities at risk,” Hassan said.

“Any action that undermines law enforcement’s ability to go after bad actors is unacceptable, and repealing this legislation is an important first step to helping ensure that the DEA has the tools it needs to combat this crisis.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Hassan authored the repeal measure.

President Trump said Tuesday morning that Marino was backing out on his own to avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest between himself and pharmaceutical companies as the White House prepares soon to declare the opioid crisis a national emergency.

The “60 Minutes” and Washington Post joint report found that political action committees representing the drug companies contributed almost $100,000 to Marino’s campaigns as he pushed legislation to weaken DEA’s enforcement ability.

Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-NH, said Trump needs to show his commitment to fighting the epidemic by coming up with a better nominee.

“New Hampshire has heard enough talk about the opioid crisis from the Trump administration. It’s time for action,” Shea-Porter said in a statement.

“The President should follow through on his promises by officially declaring a national emergency and by nominating a qualified candidate who is respected on both sides of the aisle to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy — something his administration could have and should have done in January.”

Ryan Nickel, a spokesman for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, said: “What we know now is that there was a concerted effort by the drug distribution industry to influence the DEA and fast-track legislative consideration.

“Congress relied on a recommendation from the DEA as to what they needed, and had the DEA objected, this legislation would not have passed. The immediate concern must be to reverse this policy and Senator Shaheen is currently reviewing proposals to do so.”

Rep. Annie Kuster, D-NH, had also been unaware of the bill’s weakness, according to her chief spokesman.

“The legislation promoted by Congressman Marino moved through Congress without a recorded vote. Congresswoman Kuster has serious concerns about the reports that this bill has impacted prescription opioid interdiction efforts,” said Communications Director Nick Brown. “She is currently examining legislative solutions to ensure that bad actors are held accountable for the improper distribution of prescription opioids.”

Marino’s nomination, announced in September, had not yet come to a committee hearing.

Hassan said it was clear that Marino was the wrong choice.

“Our nation is in the midst of an opioid crisis that demands strong leadership, including from the Office of National Drug Control Policy,” Hassan said.

“Representative Tom Marino was clearly the wrong choice for this critical role and he made the right decision in withdrawing his name from consideration. President Trump must move quickly to nominate a qualified candidate to serve as drug czar, someone who is not beholden to big pharmaceutical companies and who is committed to working to strengthen treatment, prevention, and recovery efforts.”

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