WASHINGTON — Thirty-three U.S. senators, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia, are requesting a report on a law being criticized following a journalistic investigation into how it affected the Drug Enforcement Administration’s efforts to stop the spread of opioids.
A letter from the legislators, which was sent Friday, asks acting Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Eric Hargan and acting DEA administrator Robert Patterson for information regarding the impact of the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016.
“This report was due to Congress on April 16, 2017. As of October 16, 2017 – exactly 6 months past the deadline for this information – no such report has been submitted to the relevant congressional committees,” the letter said.
“As Congress revisits the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act and considers whether the DEA has all of the tools it needs to play an effective role in combatting this public health emergency, it is critical that we have the information necessary to evaluate this law.”
The law limits the conditions used by the DEA to conduct operations and also expands the requirements needed to be met before making a decision regarding an alleged violation of federal drug policy.
The legislation was passed by Congress without opposition and signed into law by then President Barack Obama in April 2016.
The measure became the subject of scrutiny and discussion following an Oct. 15 report by the Washington Post and CBS’ “60 Minutes.” According to former DEA officials interviewed on the matter, the law limited the DEA’s efforts to go after drug distributors, and was also pushed by lobbyists with prior experience working for the agency.
One of the bill’s co-sponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., was President Donald Trump’s nominee to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Trump tweeted Tuesday Marino had withdrawn his nomination.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, wrote in a Washington Post editorial Thursday he worked with the DEA and the Department of Justice in crafting the bill.
The senators — 31 Democrats and Independents Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, who both caucus with Democrats — said they would like a report on challenges in diversion efforts caused because of the law by Oct. 30, as well as a complete report to Congress “as soon as possible.”
“It is critical that we have all the information necessary to ensure the federal government is doing everything it can to help support our states and local communities in our collective fight against this epidemic,” the senators wrote.
Manchin is the co-sponsor of legislation introduced on Monday to repeal provisions of the law that limit the DEA’s efforts. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., announced Thursday he was a co-sponsor of a companion bill in the House.