SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Orrin Hatch says he's disappointed that President Donald Trump's drug czar nominee withdrew from consideration for the job Tuesday in the wake of a news report showing he led an effort to hurt the Drug Enforcement Administration’s ability to go after drug distributors.
Pennsylvania Rep. Tom Marino's decision to pull out "gave this flawed story a victory," the Utah Republican said.
"It's clear from the outset that this story’s purpose was to run Marino down, and I hated to see it succeed," Hatch said on KSL Newsradio's "The Doug Wright Show."
A Washington Post investigation shows Marino shepherded legislation that severely limited the DEA's federal ability to crack down on drug companies' unscrupulous opioid distribution.
The House and Senate unanimously passed the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act in 2016, and former President Barack Obama signed it into law. It specifies conditions under which the DEA can halt an organization's permission to distribute prescription drugs.
Still, Democrats are using the legislation to claim Marino should be disqualified from leading the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Hatch said.
Hatch also drew criticism in the Post story for his role in negotiating the final version of the bill with the DEA. He called any suggestion that he helped perpetuate the opioid crisis through legislation "offensive" and "completely baseless."
“We negotiated those new rules, and the language in the law that they now say is most troubling came from the Drug Enforcement Agency lawyers," the senator said. The DEA and the Department of Justice could have stopped the bill at any time but chose to allow it to go forward, he said.19 comments on this story
"So let’s get this straight: Congress took language that DEA and DOJ wrote, inserted it in the bill, and now Congress is the bad guy?" Hatch said Monday on the Senate floor.
Before the law, the DEA had carte blanche to shut down prescription drug distributors without cause or due process, which kept patients from getting needed medication, Hatch said.
"We were trying to solve a problem that really existed, and I think we did. But some people are trying to distort this," he said. "I just wanted to help patients, that's all. And that’s what we did."