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DEA Could Face Subpoena For Stonewalling Congress In Opioid Fight

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter

Republicans in Congress are threatening the Drug Enforcement Administration with a subpoena for documents relating to “pill dumping” of opioid painkillers in West Virginia.

The Energy and Commerce Committee sent a request for records to the DEA May 8 regarding allegations that pharmaceutical suppliers were funneling opioids into communities in the state, which is ravaged by opioid addiction and overdose deaths.  Republican Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon told DEA Deputy Assistant Administrator Neil Doherty at a hearing Wednesday that the committee is “done waiting” for the agency to produce the pertinent data and may be forced to subpoena the documents, reports The Hill.

Unusually large shipments of opioid painkillers to communities in the state are believed to have fueled the addiction epidemic in West Virginia. The DEA has failed to produce key information to the committee or provide a concrete timeline of when they will comply with the request.

When asked at the hearing Wednesday which drug suppliers were guilty of funneling drugs into the state, Doherty could not provide an answer.

“When you get a letter … you’re supposed to answer it. You’re not supposed to dodge it,” Republican Rep. Joe Barton said at the hearing Wednesday. “I’ve issued subpoenas with the support of the minority to members of an administration of my own political party. It is absolutely unacceptable to listen to your answers with a straight face to our chairman. If I were you, I’d go back and get the answers in plain English as quickly as possible. If you don’t, I recommend to the chairman we bring the wrath of this committee down on the DEA.”

Nearly 800 million opioid pills entered West Virginia over a period of six years, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail. In one example cited by the committee, the town of Kermit, which has a population of roughly 400, received nearly 9 million hydrocodone painkillers in only a two-year period.

Drug overdose deaths claimed a record 880 lives in West Virginia in 2016, fueled by the increased prevalence of synthetic opioids in heroin supplies. Lawmakers say the flood of pills into the state likely contributed to the rampant addiction that currently grips communities in West Virginia.

Doherty gave little clarity at the committee hearing Wednesday, but said in response to questions from Barton that they would work to get answers as quickly as possible.

Ethan Barton contributed to this report.

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