Manchin asks White House to pull drug czar nomination

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., called for the White House to pull its nomination for its Office of National Drug Control Policy following an investigation into the limiting of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s powers.

The Washington Post and CBS’ “60 Minutes” reported Sunday the agency had its ability to go after drug distributors restrained following legislation pushed by industry lobbyists who previously worked for the DEA.

The nomination for the position, Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., cosponsored the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016, which passed both the Senate and the House of Representatives without objection.

The law defines the DEA’s authority to register drug manufacturer and distributors, as well as revises the requirements needed to be met to cause action from officials. According to former DEA officials who spoke to The Washington Post and “60 Minutes,” the law limited the agency’s efforts to target distribution companies.

The drug czar is responsible for coordinating campaigns to discourage the use of drugs, as well as advising the president on related policy.

Manchin said Marino’s appointment to the position, which is casually called the Drug Czar, is concerning given West Virginia’s rising opioid addiction and fatal overdoses; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports West Virginia as having the highest drug overdose death rate in 2015 with more than 41 people per 100,000.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

“Despite these devastating numbers and the human lives lost as a result,” Manchin wrote, “the legislation that Congressman Marino pushed has tied the hands of the DEA in their efforts to enforce our nation’s laws and ensure that these wholesalers and other industry actors alert authorities to these suspicious orders instead of simply profiting from them.”

Manchin added Marino’s sponsorship shows he either does not understand the opioid epidemic’s impact or his ties to the drug industry are too great for him to notice trends.

“Either option leaves him unfit to serve as the head of the ONDCP,” Manchin noted.

Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn cosponsored the bill with Marino. Blackburn announced her Senate campaign on Oct. 5, hoping to succeed fellow Republican Sen. Bob Corker, who is not seeking re-election.

A Blackburn spokesperson told The Tennessean “any unintended consequences” of the law should be addressed promptly.

Manchin also introduced legislation Monday to repeal the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, noting the report as his reason for doing so.

“The DEA is one of our first lines of defense against this all-consuming disease,” he said in a statement. “West Virginia’s families and communities deserve a DEA that will protect them, not pharmaceutical companies.”

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said in a statement Marino will “need to address the accusations” during his confirmation hearings.

President Donald Trump called Marino “a good man” Monday, but added he will look at the report “very closely” to decide whether to continue his nomination.

“I have not spoken to him, but I will speak to him and I’ll make that determination,” the president told reporters at the White House Rose Garden. “If I think it’s 1 percent negative to doing what we want to do, I will make a change.”

Trump also said he would declare a national emergency on the opioid addiction crisis “next week.”

“That is a very, very big step, and it’s a very important step,” he noted. “To get to that step, a lot of work has to be done and it’s time-consuming work.”

Trump first said during his “working vacation” in August he would make such a decree.

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