Investigative Group

DEA Chief: Pharma-Backed Law Hasn’t Hurt Agency’s Fight Against Opioids

The then-chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration assured Democratic Rep. Judy Chu the bill she cosponsored to take away a tool the agency used to prevent opioids from reaching the streets wouldn’t hinder the agency’s work.

A Washington Post and “60 Minutes” investigation revealed drug companies dumped millions into lobbying for the bill, the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, which essentially stripped the DEA’s ability to suspend pharmaceutical companies that sent suspiciously large opioid shipments.

Chu of California received more than $31,000 from the pharmaceutical industry as of last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, but she told The Daily Caller News Foundation she was assured — in a meeting that took place five months after the law passed — the bill wouldn’t hurt the DEA’s work. (RELATED: Pharma Association Defends Law Weakening DEA’s Opioid Enforcement)

“I met with Chuck Rosenberg, the then-acting head of the DEA, who insisted that the bill would not negatively impact their work,” Chu told TheDCNF in a statement. “[I]t was my understanding that the DEA was closely involved in advising on drafting language that would not impact their mission,” she added. “I did not receive indication of opposition or concerns from within the DEA.”

Rosenberg also said “the legislation was unnecessary,” Chu recently wrote in a letter to the House committees on Energy and Commerce and Oversight and Government reform, while requesting an investigation on the law impacted the DEA’s ability to combat the opioid crisis.

The DEA and the Department of Justice publicly opposed the original version of the legislation introduced in 2014. Agency officials didn’t object to the final version, but felt they were forced to accept a compromise on a bill that would ultimately pass, according to the Post/60 Minutes investigation.

“DEA felt this wasn’t a great solution, but was the best of the options offered to us, even if it did not fully address the concerns we had previously laid out for you,” Justice Department congressional liaison Jill Wade Tyson wrote in an email obtained by the WaPo/60 Minutes investigation.

The bill has created new challenges for the DEA, but investigators have started using new tools and haven’t “slowed down” the current acting-agency chief, Robert Patterson, recently said.

Chu also supported the bill to encourage the DEA to set better guidance for drug distributors to balance between ensuring patients can get their opioid prescriptions filled while preventing the painkillers from reaching the streets.

“I spoke with community pharmacists who said they were serving patients with legitimate pain, but were getting blocked with no explanation,” Chu said in her statement. “Their request was to receive consistent guidance from the DEA so they could avoid disruption for legitimate patients.”

“Community pharmacists must balance the work of combatting abuse with the work of ensuring those who need treatment have access to the medicine that can help,” she continued. “But after speaking with them, it was clear they needed better guidance in order to ensure they did both jobs appropriately.”

Lawmakers passed the bill unanimously, Chu noted.

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