“People are dying. They’re dying,” DEA whistleblower Joe Rannazzisi repeatedly stated in a recent interview with 60 Minutes’ Bill Whitaker.
The former high-ranking agent of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) recently revealed on the CBS program that America’s opioid epidemic has been fueled not only by the pharmaceutical industry, but by Congress.
Whistleblower and ex-DEA senior executive agent Joe Rannazzisi reported that during his time in the agency, he worked hard to uphold the law, but was pushed out by members of Congress and an industry campaign that he says has resulted in a weakening of the nation’s drug laws at a time of “unprecedented crisis”.
“America’s largest drug distributors and some of the nation’s most senior politicians colluded to fuel the country’s opioid epidemic, leading directly to thousands of unnecessary deaths”, Rannazzisi explained, adding, “This is an industry that’s out of control. If they don’t follow the law in drug supply, and diversion occurs, people die. That’s just it, people die.”
Rannazzisi is now advising lawyers suing the opioid industry.
To make matters more difficult, a law signed by former president Barack Obama last year has made it even more challenging for the DEA to crack down on the illegal distribution and sale of prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin.
The law in question, the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, was championed by Republican congressman Tom Marino and—according to Rannazzisi’s interview—largely written by D. Linden Barber, a former DEA lawyer who went on to work for the drug companies.
The law was supposed to aid enforcement by improving ties with industry. However, it made a crucial change to the standard required for the DEA to freeze drug shipments that it suspected were finding their way to addicts in opioid-ravaged communities. For four decades, the DEA could freeze shipments that posed an “imminent danger,” but the law changed that to “a substantial likelihood of an immediate threat.”
Rannazzisi says the law places an impossible burden of proof on the DEA, Rannazzisi concluded, “There’s no way that we could meet that burden.”
According to the US. Senate Lobbying Act database, more than $106 million was given to support the bill’s passage, led by Pharmaceutical Research and Manufactures of America, who spent $40.8 million, followed by CVS Health, who gave $32.8 million. The data base shows that big pharma spent more than $740 million collectively, in state and federal lobbying efforts over the last decade.
In a recent study published in the Marquette Law Review, DEA Chief Administrative Judges John J. Mulrooney II and Katherine E. Legel conclude, “If it had been the intent of Congress to completely eliminate the DEA’s ability to ever impose an immediate suspension on distributors or manufacturers, it would be difficult to conceive of a more effective vehicle for achieving that goal.”
DEA officials have spoken out after the interview’s airing, claiming that the agency is doing everything it can to fight the opioid epidemic. “During the past seven years, we have removed approximately 900 registrations annually, preventing reckless doctors and rogue businesses from making an already troubling problem worse,” a DEA spokesperson said in a recent statement. CBS also reported that the Justice Department did not dispute any of the 60 Minutes interview.