Rick Bowmer
FILE - In this April 23, 2016, file photo, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, speaks during the Utah Republican Party 2016 nominating convention in Salt Lake City. 

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Orrin Hatch on Monday took to the Senate floor to defend legislation he sponsored that altered federal enforcement regulations on drug distribution and manufacturing companies, in response to an in-depth Washington Post story casting a scrutinizing light on the law.

The law, called the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement, was passed in 2016 following unanimous votes by both chambers of Congress and a signature from then-President Barack Obama. It specifies conditions under which the Drug Enforcement Administration can halt an organization's permission to distributed prescription drugs.

An investigative article published Sunday by the Washington Post details complaints by prominent former officials in that agency claiming that the federal ability to crack down on drug companies' unscrupulous opioid distribution had been severely limited by the bill.

In interviews with the Post, those officials criticized the drug industry for exerting improper influence over lawmakers in order to avoid federal regulations requiring them to carefully screen shipments to ensure they didn't fall into the hands of negligent vendors that perpetuate the plight of opioid addiction in the United States.

But Hatch, R-Utah, said he negotiated extensively with top DEA officials over the text of the bill before it was passed, and that the agency "could have stopped this bill at any time if they had wanted to but instead chose to allow it to proceed."

The bill was needed, Hatch said, because the DEA's had "unfettered" power to immediately suspend a provider's ability to distribute prescription drugs.

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"Such unfettered discretion concerned the patient advocacy and drug manufacturing community because an immediate suspension order cuts off all drugs from a distributor, including those intended for legitimate users," Hatch said. "A balance is needed to ensure that individuals who need prescription drugs for treatment receive them but that such drugs are not diverted for improper purposes."

Hatch said that the Washington Post also failed to adequately explain that the Drug Enforcement Administration has "other enforcement tools available."