Author: Justin Mckibben
Earlier this week we talked about a story that shook things up in politics as a former DEA agent threw some serious accusations at the Big Pharma industry, Congress and a number of key officials for their involvement in policies some believe helped create the enduring opioid crisis in America. Among those accused of tipping the scales in favor of Big Pharma and stripping power away from those charged with regulating the industry was Republican Representative Tom Marino.
Of course, we know that Tom Marino was President Donald Trump’s top nominee to be the nation’s drug czar.
Now, after withdrawing from the nomination to head the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Tom Marino says he is proud of his role in writing a 2016 law that many critics say paved the way for the current epidemic.
The Tom Marino Factor
What kind of role did Tom Marino have in the creation of the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act? Why is it that so many are up in arms about the bill in the first place?
To recap- Pennsylvania Congressman Tom Marino and Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee introduced a bill to the House. It was advertised to officials as a way to ensure that patients had access to the pain medication they needed. In a statement released by Marino’s office, he claims the law would help “facilitate a balanced solution” by ensuring access to certain medications while allowing the Drug Enforcement Administration to prevent the sale and abuse of prescription drugs.
In essence, Tom Marino was supposedly pushing for a way to let pain management patients still get the useful medications they needed, without impeding on the process of curbing abuse.
But that isn’t how everyone sees it, especially after the 60 Minutes story.
Why it Matters
According to the opposition, the bill ultimately did little else besides weaken the DEA and the government’s authority to stop companies from distributing opioids in suspicious shipments.
For years prior to the passage of the “Marino Bill” some big-time drug distributors were getting fined thousands of dollars for repeatedly ignoring DEA warnings to shut down suspicious sales of hundreds of millions of pills. These companies were racking up billions of dollars in sales while turning a blind eye to obnoxious overprescribing of dangerous drugs.
Back then the DEA was able to immediately prevent drugs from reaching the street by freezing suspicious shipments. If the DEA judged that the drugs posed an “imminent danger” to a community, they could take action to prevent the flood of powerful narcotic medications from overwhelming the area.
However, the Tom Marino bill is argued to make it virtually impossible for the DEA to freeze suspicious narcotic shipments from the companies. Now, the agency is required to demonstrate that a drug distributor’s actions represent “a substantial likelihood of an immediate threat,” which officials say is far more difficult criteria to meet. The report against the Tom Marino bill even cited internal DEA and Justice Department documents and an independent assessment by the DEA’s chief administrative law judge.
The DEA even fought the bill, according to people within the agency, but in 2015 the law gained momentum again when the Justice Department named a new chief of the DEA- Chuck Rosenberg. After some reluctance, the report on 60 Minutes that included exclusive insight from Joseph T. Rannazzisi states the DEA ultimately took a deal they did not want.
Champion for Big Pharma
Marino disputed that, calling the reports “false accusations and unfair reporting.”
Tom Marino spent years pushing versions of this bill through Congress. He argued that it was to put an overly-aggressive DEA in check and protect drug companies from what he believed was unfair or misguided federal interference. In other words, he spent a lot of time fighting for Big Pharma’s ability to send millions of pills to communities that didn’t have half the population to justify them. All because the DEA was being aggressive?
The irony here is that the same people who pushed so hard for drug distributors ability to traffic obscene among of pills without the pesky DEA would probably be the same people demanding mandatory minimums for low-level drug offenders on the streets.
And again, many are still suspicious of those involved in pushing for this kind of legislation because of their connections to Big Pharma industry. The Post reports that the drug industry worked behind the scenes with lobbyists and key members of Congress, including Tom Marino.
Some reports indicate the Big Pharma industry poured more than a million dollars into election campaigns, including Marino’s, who received nearly $100,000 in campaign contributions from political action committees supporting the drug industry.
Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch calls the report “complete baloney” after it gained serious momentum earlier in the week.
Why are we not surprised? Because Hatch himself has received hundreds of thousands in donations from Big Pharma companies and health contributors over the years.
Holding Big Pharma accountable for their contribution to the opioid epidemic has become an increasingly popular cause. Lawyers and politicians at all levels have been pushing to put a spotlight on the shady side of the pharmaceutical industry. Now it seems that spotlight may extend more and more to exposing the politics that allow these issues to spread.
Another crucial element to putting an end to the opioid epidemic is providing safe and effective treatment for those who need help the most. A lot of people are still out there suffering because of prescription drug abuse or other dangerous substances. But we want to help. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now.
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Author: Justin Mckibben
Back in March we talked about the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and how Republicans had been less than willing to vote for additional funds to be added to the legislation. In the face of an overwhelming outbreak of heroin and opiate addiction some would say it still falls short. However, as of Wednesday the Senate will advance the legislation forward.
The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) is a critical piece of policy for fighting addiction in America. While it may still be an imperfect reform, it is still something to work with. Thankfully, life is about progress not perfection.
A Victory for Fighting Addiction
Some of the primary purposes of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act are to:
The whole intention, as we have stated before, was to formally authorize the federal government to utilize a more compassionate response system in address addiction. This would replace relying on prison and a cycle of punishment that only feeds into the problems so closely connected to drug abuse such as poverty. The bill is a product of:
- Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio
- Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island
Despite concerns over funding, Democrats in the Senate decided not to block the measure. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act passed with a rousing 90 votes for and only 2 against.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, stated:
“By increasing prevention, treatment, recovery and law enforcement tools, CARA can help prevent more people from struggling with addiction to begin with, and it can help foster long-term healing for those already struggling with addiction,”
It is more than logical to attack the issue with addiction on the back-end while also address the root causes. Hopefully this new legislation can follow through.
Money Makers Make It
As far as objections go, there were plenty despite the Democrats being willing to pass the act anyway. When the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act had pushed through the House last week in a nearly unanimous decision there was already concern. Democrats had offered up and amendment to provide $920 million to fighting opioid abuse. Republicans shot this proposal down. The emergency funding provision would have allocated additional financial backing for various innovative programs including:
- $230 million to law enforcement initiatives, including treatment alternatives to incarceration
- $10 million would have gone to state and local law enforcement units that oversee communities with high levels of drug use
- $300 million for state programs focused on prevention, treatment and recovery, and for improving treatment for pregnant and postpartum women dealing with heroin or opioid addiction.
Consider all the work that needs to be done in order to support these initiatives. Why doesn’t more money make it through? Regardless, Democrats recognized the severity of the situation and voted to pass the bill. During the floor debate in the Senate it was noted that more money is needed to provide support for:
- Mental health workers
- Law enforcement
- Addiction beds at addiction facilities
Still, there is some hope for more funding. Republicans have assured they will work to include additional funding in 2017 appropriations legislation. New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer stated,
“Until we pass the increase in resources for both law enforcement and treatment, we cannot say Congress has done what is necessary to solve and fight the opioid crisis,”
This is absolutely true. Without putting your money where your mouth is it will be far more difficult to fight this fight. Providing lasting and diverse support for addiction treatment means investing in it. With the prominence of addiction in this country, it is an investment in our own future.
Reforms aimed at addressing addiction and supporting recovery are no walk in the park, but the fact that addiction is being viewed as the health issue it is, not the moral failing people once assumed it was, shows progress. Hopefully support for addiction treatment will grow and more lives will be saved. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135
It is honestly refreshing to see so many changes being made recently to the countries policies on tougher issues; history truly is made every day. And a historic legislation was passed by U.S. Congress late this past Thursday that prevents the Drug Enforcement Administration from carrying out any raids, arrest, or prosecutions of patients using medical marijuana, this takes affect by no longer allowing the law enforcement agencies under the Justice Department to consume federal dollars in efforts to enforce federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized the use of medicinal marijuana.
Advocates for Innovation
The amendment which was originally introduced by Representative Dana Rohrabacher was pushed through with a resounding 219-189 vote. The bipartisan-backed amendment was openly sponsored by Representatives from several states including Texas, Michigan, Tennessee and Nevada along with members such as Earl Blumenauer, Barbara Lee, and Tom McClintock of California. Paul Broun Democratic Rep of Georgia and Jared Polis of Colorado also stood in support of the bill, which altogether established support from a record-high 49 Republicans as well as 170 Democrats.
In a press release Representative Farr said “This vote showed that Congress is ready to rethink how we treat medical marijuana patients in this country,”
The New Amendment
Representative Sam Farr pointed out during the same press release that states with medical marijuana laws are now the majority, and no longer outnumbered in the debate for creating a new system recognizing the drug in medical terms. It was explained that the new amendment gives states the right to determine their own laws for medical marijuana use; free of the fear that federal government would step in and enforce law against it. The hope is that is this will provide patients with the comfort knowing they will have safe access to the medical care legal in their state without the fear of federal prosecution.
Advocates for medicinal marijuana said it appears Congress is finally ready to end the war on drugs that is burning through money on something that is a complete waste to the average American. Another great change is that federal tax dollars will no longer be wasted arresting patients who are seriously ill and who use medical marijuana. It will also avoid the cost of investigating and prosecuting those who provide to them with medicinal marijuana. It is believed to be a huge victory for patients nation-wide struggling with serious health issues.
The Senate and DEA
At this time the Senate has yet to pass its account of the legislation, but there is little doubt that the Senate, currently controlled by the Democratic Party, would put down the bill. However the law is still clear that until the Senate passes its version the federal government can continue to prosecute medical marijuana patients. Are the days of pot prohibition coming to a complete end?
One concern held by some advocates is that on the same day the House voted to restrict DEA spending in states that have legalized medical marijuana or the production of hemp, the House also approved a budget of $35 million more than what the agency itself has requested in its initial spending plan. While the budget increase for the DEA should not have any effect on the new protections granted to patients and hemp production in a handful of states that have legislation protecting medical marijuana patients, there is still a hint of concern that by accounting for additional funds to the DEA is Congress is not entirely ready to end the war on drugs? Many still hold out hope that this new piece of legislation will only be a catalyst for a wave of reforms to create a better system of law built around the medicinal marijuana industry.
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse and addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135
The Obama Administration seems to be open to discussion regarding making changes to the current scheduling of marijuana, specifically; removing it from the federal government’s “dangerous drug list.” Attorney General Eric Holder was clear, however, that any decision or action would be made with in collaboration with Congress.
The Controlled Substance Act (CSA) classifies drugs and other substances into five distinct categories – called ‘schedules’ – that are assigned using certain criteria: whether there is an acceptable medical use of the drug and the abuse or dependency potential of the drug.
Schedule I drugs are considered the most dangerous, having a high potential for abuse as well as potentially severe psychological and/or physical dependence. Therefore, Schedule V drugs have the the least potential for abuse.
Currently, marijuana is a Schedule I drug, meaning that it is categorized with some of the hardest drugs, such as heroin, LSD, and Ecstasy. Schedule I drugs are like the FBI’s Most Wanted; they are considered to be the most dangerous substances around. And, although there haven’t been any documented cases of marijuana-related overdose deaths, it remains a Schedule I drug, being described by the federal government as having a “high potential for abuse.”
Besides how ridiculous this characterization is, there’s another big issue with marijuana being classified in this way: it can’t be researched for any medical benefits while it remains a Schedule I drug. So, despite the many promising aspects of the plant as an effective treatment or even a cure for some medical disorders, marijuana remains a mostly untapped resource.
Holder stated that the current administration is “more than glad to work with Congress if there is a desire to look at and reexamine how the drug is scheduled” during a House Appropriations Committee held on April 4. Prior to this, the President received an impassioned letter composed by 18 members of Congress, calling for him to reconsider how marijuana is categorized by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) was one of these 18 congressional members involved in writing the letter in which he referred to President Obama’s interview in the New Yorker. In it, the president said that he considered marijuana to be less dangerous than alcohol. Obama also said that “Marijuana… remains listed in the federal Controlled Substances Act at Schedule I… a higher listing than cocaine and methamphetamine, Schedule II substances that you gave as example of harder drugs,” and added, “This makes no sense.”
Reclassifying marijuana would not make it wholly legal under federal law but, it could make possible research into marijuana’s medical benefits and allow marijuana-related businesses to receive tax deductions.
Referring to an earlier decision to prosecute certain cases only – due to the department’s limited resources, Holder is quotes as saying “We’re not blazing a new trail,” as enforcement happens on the state and local levels.
Despite the fact that Holder oversees the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), it’s likely that his views are at odds with the agency and that any attempt to reschedule marijuana will meet with resistance. DEA Chief Michele Leonhart said this week that the growing acceptance of marijuana only makes her agents want to “fight harder.”
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.
Members of Congress are protesting the FDA’s recent approval of the highly-addictive prescription painkiller Zohydro. Signed by seven other members of Congress, the open letter was sent to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on November 22, 2013.
Why all the hype?
Made by the company Zogenix, Zohydro is the first pure hydrocodone prescription drug to ever be approved by the FDA and the concerns for abuse cannot be ignored: Zohydro can be chewed, snorted, or injected by people wanting to abuse the drug such as opiate addicts in order to deliver a powerful dose of hydrocodone and to get a “high” that’s on-par with heroin. Pointing out the FDA advisory panel’s negative recommendation of Zohydro, the letter speaks to a fear of the seemingly certain likelihood for abuse.
Painkillers: A Public Health Risk
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) reported that there were 38,329 drug overdose deaths nationwide in 2010 and that prescription drugs, such as painnkillers were involved in nearly 60% of those deaths. The report also details that, consistent with previous years, “opioid drugs, which include OxyContin and Vicodin, contributed to 3 out of 4 medication overdose deaths.”
From the Zogenix website:
“Zohydro ER exposes users to risks of addiction, abuse, and misuse, which can lead to overdose and death. Assess each patient’s risk before prescribing, and monitor regularly for development of these behaviors or conditions.
“Because of the risks of addiction, abuse, and misuse with opioids, even at recommended doses, and because of the greater risks of overdose and death with extended-release opioid formulations, reserve Zohydro ER for use in patients for whom alternative treatment options (e.g., non-opioid analgesics or immediate-release opioids) are ineffective, not tolerated, or would be otherwise inadequate to provide sufficient management of pain.”
What’s Really Going On?
The burning questions surrounding this are: why did the FDA approve such a dangerous narcotic in the first place and why did it ignore the negative recommendation of their own expert advisory panel?
Zohydro is the first hydrocodone-only opioid Zohydro, approved by an FDA panel vote of 11 to 2 in late October, and it is manufactured by the same company, Alkermes, that makes the popular medication Vivitrol, which is used to treat addiction to painkillers (like hydrocodone) and alcohol.
Alkermes also provides financial support to a powerful professional group of substance abuse experts, the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
One day before the approval of Zohydro, the FDA tightened rules on hydrocodone products, requiring the same Schedule II anti-abuse restrictions as oxycodone products. Unlike other narcotic painkiller drugs, Zohydro, will not have to adhere to the same protections, at least not yet; Zohydro received approval as-is, despite a recommendation against it by the FDA advisory panel.
Zogenix has said that an abuse-deterrent recipe for Zohydro is in early development but that it is “several years away from the market.”
How Zohydro Came to Be?
Zogenix started a clinical trial of Zohydro back in 2010 and it was approved using the controversial method known as enriched enrollment, which allows drug companies to basically weed out test patients who might not tolerate the drug from the trials so as not to skew the results.
The approach is cheaper than other methods and is criticized for being a way for drug companies to make a drug seem more effective, helping its chances of FDA approval. Some call it cheating, and that the method does not give an accurate representation of the drug’s effects once on the market for the masses.
If you or a loved one is struggling with narcotic substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.