A decade ago, the rising opioid epidemic annually claimed thousands of lives from overdoses. From 2013 to 2015, Utah ranked seventh-highest in opioid deaths. The DEA responded by targeting major opioid distributors and their regional networks, shipping billions of pills to corrupt pharmacies and pill mills for illegal sales to hapless addicts. U.S. opioid market annual sales are $10 billion.
The opioid industry’s powerful lobby embarked on a campaign to protect profits by drafting a new law to dramatically curtail the DEA’s jurisdiction and protect the distributors. The strategy included luring experienced senior DEA officials to resign and join powerful D.C. law, lobbying and PR firms at multiples of their government salaries. One drafted the new law that was quietly submitted to the industry’s key advocates in Congress. Reps. Tom Marino, R-Pa., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., carried the lobby’s water on the House side. On the Senate side, Sen. Orrin Hatch was sponsor and facilitator. All represent constituencies adversely affected by the opioid epidemic. Lavish campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry have graced their campaign chests: in recent years, Marino received nearly $100,000, Blackburn $120,000 and Hatch $177,000. Mr. Trump has nominated Marino to serve as the nation’s next drug czar, and Hatch, now 83, wants us to re-elect him.