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Ex-DEA Agent Blames Congress and Big Pharma for Opioid Crisis

Ex-DEA Agent Blames Congress and Big Pharma for Opioid Crisis

Author: Justin Mckibben

Ever since the true nature of the opioid epidemic in America began to come to light, and people started to see the gravity of its impact in communities across the country, there have been plenty of efforts to find out how we ever got this far. We continue to ask who should be held accountable. Was it the black market drug trade? Was it the synthetic opioids coming from overseas? How did it get this bad?

Just this past week 60 Minutes and The Washington Post joined forces to interview Joe Rannazzisi, who is said to be the most important whistleblower ever on 60 Minutes.

Joe Rannazzisi is a former agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) who ran the Office of Diversion Control; the department in charge of regulating and investigating the pharmaceutical industry. He is a former DEA deputy assistant administrator with a law degree, and a pharmacy degree, who believes the great injustice done to the American people cannot go overlooked.

Bad Business with Big Pharma

Through this inside look with Rannazzisi, he implicates Big Pharma drug makers in willingly distributed hundreds of millions of drugs to rogue pharmacies and pain-clinics-turned-pill-mills for over two decades.

Rannazzisi believes that the Big Pharma companies, some even multi-billion, Fortune 500 companies, have contributed to the problem by ignoring the truth; that powerful prescription pain medications were being diverted from doctors, clinics and pharmacies for illicit use. In the interview, Rannazzisi calls out a number of key drug makers, including:

He also calls out the three largest drug distributors:

  • Cardinal Health
  • McKesson
  • AmerisourceBergen

Saying they control probably 85%- 90% of drugs “going downstream.”

In fact, Rannazzisi said the way pain clinics seemed to pop up overnight all over the country made the whole crack-cocaine epidemic look like nothing, saying he had never seen anything like it, adding:

“These weren’t kids slinging crack on the corner. These were professionals who were doing it. They were just drug dealers in lab coats.”

Rannazzisi says after prosecuting pain doctors and pharmacists didn’t seem to put a real dent in the problem, he knew he had to work his way up; they went after distributors.

While drug distributors tried to defend themselves saying it was all on the doctors for over-prescribing medications, Rannazzisi says they know exactly how many pills are being sent out. Under the Controlled Substances Act, these distributors are required by law to report and stop what the DEA refers to as “suspicious orders”.

So what might “suspicious orders” look like? Probably something lie unusually large and/or frequent shipments of opioids being made to a location. Kind of like what was happening all over the nation for years and years.

For example, just one pharmacy in Kermit, West Virginia ordered 9 million hydrocodone pills in just over 2 years. That’s for a town of only 392 people. That’s over 11,479 pills a person each year! Almost 1,000 pills a month! From only one of the town’s pharmacies.

DEA investigators say many drug distributors ignored the DEA requirements and shipped anyway.

DEA Fighting Back

Rannazzisi wasn’t the only DEA agent to speak up about Big Pharma’s bad business. Several other DEA veterans say they saw thousands of suspicious orders and tried to fight the growing problem. Others said they tried on multiple occasions to get these companies to fix the issue, but they did nothing.

Eventually, in 2008 the DEA was able to hit some distributors with hefty fines for filing hundreds of suspicious orders, including:

  • $13.2 million fine against the country’s largest drug distributor, McKesson
  • $34 million fine against second-largest distributor, Cardinal Health

The fines for drug distributors over the last 7 years add up to around $341 million.

The High Rollers

In 2011, Cardinal Health attorneys called Rannazzisi’s boss at the Justice Department, who called Rannazzisi and pressed for an explanation for his policies. Rannazzisi believes that even after they had gone after small companies hundreds of times before, as soon as they went after the Fortune 500 drug makers, their power and influence started getting in his way.

Rannazzisi says that with these massive Big Pharma empires there was now money and influence being used to pressure top lawyers at the DEA to pursue a softer approach on penalizing drug distributors who broke the rules.

Former DEA attorney Jonathan Novak noticed that shocking shift in the way these kinds of cases were handled. Stating:

“These were not cases where it was black — where it was grey… These were cases where the evidence was crystal clear that there was wrongdoing going on.”

But suddenly the higher ups started to demand more and more evidence to stall the system. Fewer cases against Big Pharma companies were being approved, and road-blocks from Novak’s bosses seemed to pop up everywhere.

Novak also said he saw a huge migration of DEA lawyers switching sides to defend the drug industry in higher paying positions.

Taking it to Congress

While drug distributors started successfully stalling the progress of cases against them from the DEA, they also began to lobby Congress to get legislation that would destroy the DEA’s power over them.

Then one day Pennsylvania Congressman Tom Marino and Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee introduced a bill to the House that was promoted as a way to ensure that patients had access to the pain medication they needed. However, Jonathan Novak, who worked in the DEA’s legal office, claims that what the bill really did was strip the agency of its ability to immediately freeze suspicious shipments of prescription narcotics to keep drugs off U.S. streets.

The bill’s author… Linden Barber, a former employee of the DEA.

Congressman Tom Marino, along with Congresswoman Blackburn, later wrote the inspector general for the Justice Department, demanding that Rannazzisi be investigated for trying to quote “intimidate the United States Congress.” Even though this went nowhere, Rannazzisi was stripped of his responsibilities soon after.

Some former DEA agents believe that the Big Pharma industry not only used lobbying groups to donate money to politicians to get laws passed in their favor, but also to try and push Joe Rannazzisi out of his office.

In the end, the DEA signed off on the final version of the “Marino bill.” A senior DEA representative claiming that even though they fought to stop it, growing pressure from Congress and industry lobbyists forced them into a deal it did not want.

The bill was presented to the Senate in March of 2016.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced the legislation in the Senate.

It passed by unanimous consent with no objections and no recorded votes.

It passed the House the same way, and President Obama signed it into law.

Where Are We Now?

This whole thing reminds you of the saying- if you can’t beat em, join em.

It would seem that’s exactly what a lot of DEA agents did after fighting a losing battle against powerful Big Pharma companies.

Since it all began, the pharmaceutical industry and law firms that represent them have hired at least 46 investigators, attorneys, and supervisors from the DEA, including 32 directly from the division that regulates the drug industry.

Remember that guy Linden Barber, who authored the bill that many say stripped the DEA of the power to go after Big Pharma companies? Well 3 months ago Cardinal Health, that second-largest drug distributor we were talking about that went after Rannazzisi through his boss, hired Linden Barber as the senior vice president!

Other former DEA agents and lawyers have gone on to take up so pretty prestigious positions working for drug companies, or law firms and other organizations working in the pharmaceutical industries best interest.

Joe Rannazzisi now consults with state attorneys general who have filed suit against distributors for their role in the opioid crisis.

Oh… and let us not forget Congressman Marino, who was just nominated to become President Trump’s new drug czar.

Remarkably, there are a lot of instances of people in the DEA being influenced by pharmaceutical companies and lobbyists to stand up for drug companies instead of the tens-of-thousands of Americans dying from opioids each year. In many of these instances, the individual’s go on to get high-earning jobs defending the interests of the Big Pharma industry.

So is it a made-up conspiracy? Or are pharmaceutical companies buying their way out of trouble at every turn and pushing out people like Rannazzisi who stand up to them? Is it really that hard to believe when you connect the dots?

With an ongoing opioid epidemic doing major damage to the country, we have to acknowledge everything that has contributed to this issue. Even if we set aside the idea of placing blame, we cannot prevent it from getting worse or happening again if we don’t acknowledge what helped cause it. Every drug company, policy maker, pharmacy, crooked doctor and individual should be accountable to taking action to make things better. It starts with accepting the issue and building a foundation to recover. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now. We want to help.

CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

In the News: Chicago Becomes Third City to Sue Big Pharma Over Painkiller Marketing

In the News: Chicago Becomes Third City to Sue Big Pharma Over Painkiller Marketing

Marketing for prescription painkillers can be helpful to those who need it, but a deadly trap for those who abuse it. Recently the city of Chicago filed a lawsuit against some Big Pharmaceutical empires for the wrongful marketing of powerful and dangerous pain-killers. The lawsuit reportedly claims five pharmaceutical manufacturers have been irresponsibly marketing the use of highly addictive pain medications to lure consumers with incomplete information, and Chicago wants to hold them accountable for turning residents into addicts and substance abusers, which is apparently costing local government and law enforcement millions of dollars, while simultaneously tearing the community apart.

Mayor of Chicago says “Enough is Enough!”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago announced that the City of Chicago had filed the lawsuit in Illinois State Court for knowingly and aggressively marketed these drugs as rarely addictive, while flaunting benefits that lacked sufficient scientific proof in order to promote their profits, while concealing serious health risks. This strategy was indeed reported to be very successful.  In fact, the sale of opioids such as OxyContin has actually quadrupled between the year 1999 and 2010. To put this a little more into perspective, is is estimated enough prescription pain-killers were prescribed in 2010 alone to medicate every American adult, around the clock, for one whole month.

“For years, Big Pharma has deceived the public about the true risks and benefits of highly potent and highly addictive painkillers in order to expand their customer base and increase their bottom line. This has led to a dramatic rise in drug addiction, overdose and diversion in communities across the nation, and Chicago is not immune to this epidemic,” Mayor Emanuel went on to say that it is time for these prescription manufacturers to be held responsible for their deceptive marketing and irresponsible distribution of these medications, and that “enough is enough” for the citizens for Chicago.

The most tragic part is that even a patient who receives a valid prescription for an opioid painkiller can quickly become addicted to these powerful drugs. Law abiding citizens are affected just as much as any other individual who is prescribed these narcotic, and some ultimately resort to heroin use because it produces the same high but is cheaper and easier to access. Studies have found that heroin use among those who misuse or abuse opioid painkillers has drastically increased, with most reporting that they abused prescription opioid medications before ever using heroin.

The Usual Suspects

  • Janssen Pharmaceuticals (a division of Johnson & Johnson)

The webpage for Janssen’s Duragesic (fentanyl) drug says that the medication “is a strong prescription pain medication for moderate to severe chronic pain that can provide long-lasting relief from persistent pain.” It makes no mention on the page about use being recommended for or restricted to cancer patients.

  • Purdue Pharmaceutical

Purdue Pharmaceutical also faced criminal and civil charges filed in the last decade by the U.S. Department of Justice over allegations of misleading the government, physicians and consumers while marketing the notoriously dangerous and highly addictive painkiller OxyContin, which is one of the primary substances sought after in most ‘pill-mill’ industries. Purdue Pharmaceutical eventually settled the case for $634 million.

Following the case and an outcry of distress about the abuse of OxyContin, Purdue attempted to develop a new version of this powerful medication that was supposed to reduce the rate of abuse by limiting the capacity for it to be misused in ways such as crushing the pills and snorting them.

Other company’s involved in the civil case include:

  • Actavis
  • Endo Health Solutions Inc.
  • Cephalon Inc. (part of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries).

Taking Action

Manning the helm along side the city in its litigation is Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll. This law firm based out of Washington, D.C. is also representing two California counties, Orange and Santa Clara, in their crusade regarding a similar legal battle. The city attorney’s office stated that the overuse and repeated abuse of opioid-based painkillers such as Oxycodone has cost Chicago an estimated $10 million over the past seven years. Officials are determined to blame the drug makers and marketers for improperly soliciting their products to consumers with non-cancer chronic pain. The city of Chicago officials state they have no intention to ban the drugs entirely, but they do intend to send a message to Big Pharma and any other industry that the citizens of Chicago will not be taken advantage of.

 If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135





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