Trump's Drug Czar Nominee Drops Out Amid Controversy Over Opioid Crisis Ties
WASHINGTON -- President Trump's pick for the nation's drug czar withdrew his nomination today after a report that he pushed through the drug industry-backed Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act that eased access to addictive opioids.
On Sept. 1, Trump named Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), a former U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, as his nominee to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
A Washington Post and 60 Minutes investigation released Sunday detailed how the drug industry contributed nearly $100,000 to Marino as he pushed legislation to make it virtually impossible for the DEA to freeze suspicious narcotic shipments from distributors who were getting fined for ignoring federal government warnings. Meanwhile, Marino's district was reeling from the opioid crisis fueled by prescription pain medications.
After the report, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), whose state has been hit especially hard by the opioid crisis, wrote Trump on Monday, asking him to withdraw Marino's nomination.
"Congressman Marino led the effort in Congress to move through a bill that has made it significantly harder for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to enforce our nation’s anti-drug diversion laws. For years, wholesale drug distributors were sending millions of pills into small communities – far more than was reasonably medically necessary. As the report notes, one such company shipped 20 million doses of oxycodone and hydrocodone to pharmacies in West Virginia between 2007 and 2012. This included 11 million doses in one small county with only 25,000 people in the southern part of the state: Mingo County. As the number of pills in my state increased, so did the death toll in our communities, including Mingo County," Manchin wrote.
"Despite these devastating numbers and the human lives lost as a result, 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," the senator added. "His advocacy for this legislation demonstrates that Congressman Marino either does not fully understand the scope and devastation of this epidemic or ties to industry overrode those concerns. Either option leaves him unfit to serve as the head of the ONDCP."
Asked in a Rose Garden press conference Monday whether he still had faith in Marino, Trump first noted that the congressman "was a very early supporter of mine -- the great state of Pennsylvania."
"He's a great guy. I did see the report. We're going to look into the report. We're going to take it very seriously," Trump said. "Because we're going to have a major announcement, probably next week, on the drug crisis and on the opioid massive problem, and I want to get that absolutely right."
"This country, and frankly the world, has a drug problem," he added. "The world has a drug problem. But we have it and we're going to do something about it."
This morning, Trump tweeted: "Rep.Tom Marino has informed me that he is withdrawing his name from consideration as drug czar. Tom is a fine man and a great Congressman!"
Manchin applauded Trump "for recognizing that we need real leadership at the ONCDP and recognizing that Tom Marino was not it."
“We need a drug czar who has seen these devastating effects and who is passionate about ending this opioid epidemic. I look forward to working with President Trump to find a drug czar that will serve West Virginians and our entire country," he said in a statement. "It’s because of the fine journalists at the Washington Post and 60 Minutes that we have avoided appointing someone who could have made the opioid epidemic even worse."
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that "the fact that he was nominated in the first place is further evidence that when it comes to the opioid crisis, the Trump administration talks the talk, but refuses to walk the walk."
“The opioid crisis demands that the next drug czar is solely focused on getting communities across the country the help they desperately need," Schumer added. "I hope the Trump administration nominates someone that fits the bill.”