WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Donald Trump’s pick to be the nation’s drug czar withdrew his name Tuesday morning, in the wake of reports that the lawmaker helped steer legislation making it harder to penalize large drug companies.
“Rep. Tom Marino has informed me that he is withdrawing his name from consideration as drug czar. Tom is a fine man and a great Congressman!” Trump tweeted.
Trump himself, on Monday at a press conference, refused to express confidence in Marino a day after a joint Washington Post and 60 Minutes investigation aired on CBS explaining how Marino helped guide legislation favorable to the drug companies through Congress last year.
Trump said “we’re going to be looking into” the investigation. Meanwhile, many Democrats and at least one Republican called for modification or outright repeal of the law. Democrats also urged Trump to dump Marino as his pick to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
At the same press conference Monday, Trump said he would have a “major announcement” as soon as next week about his administration’s plan to tackle the opioid addiction crisis in the country. Trump has yet to officially declare it an emergency, which would free up federal resources to battle the epidemic that’s killing an average of 142 Americans every day.
The crisis was responsible for over 900 deaths in Connecticut in 2017 and officials say the state is on track to easily top 1,000 deaths this year.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy reacted Tuesday to the quick-moving developments.
“The opioid epidemic is destroying families in Connecticut and it’s not slowing down,” Murphy said. “Clearly this law made the situation worse, and it needs to be fixed ASAP.”
Murphy added: “I’m glad Rep. Marino has officially taken his name out of consideration for drug czar. The congressman who spearheaded efforts that tied the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) hands is probably not the right person to be overseeing the federal government response to the opioid crisis.”
Murphy co-sponsored the Mental Health Reform Act authorizing $1 billion in 2016 to combat the opioid crisis.
“People in Connecticut are counting on us to help end this epidemic, and Republicans and Democrats need to start working together to do so,” Murphy said.
One of those who watched Sunday night’s report on 60 Minutes was Sue Kruczek, of Guilford, who lost her 19-year-old son Nick to a drug overdose in 2013.
After she watched the report, Kruczek said Tuesday that she picked up the phone and called Washington.
“People like myself across the nation called the White House demanding Tom Marino’s name be withdrawn from consideration after that horrifying report came out,” Kruczek said. “He had limited the DEA’s ability to keep those deadly and addictive painkillers off the street while we are in the height of an opioid epidemic.”
Kruczek added: “We do not want a lobbyist for big pharma heading our fight against this epidemic. Thank you America — your voices do matter.”
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Congress must now hold hearings to understand how and why Congress was convinced to support weakening enforcement.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, said Monday that she would introduce legislation that would repeal S.483, the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016. The law, she said, “has significantly affected the government’s ability to crack down on opioid distributors that are failing to meet their obligations and endangering our communities.”
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, is also planning to introduce legislation to repeal the law.
In April 2016, a handful of members of Congress, allied with the nation’s major drug distributors, prevailed upon the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Justice Department to agree to the more industry-friendly legislation, undermining efforts to stop the flow of pain pills, according to the joint Washington Post and 60 Minutes investigation.
The DEA had opposed the legislation.
The law was the crowning achievement of a campaign by the drug industry to weaken the DEA enforcement against drug companies that were supplying corrupt doctors and pharmacists who peddled narcotics to the black market, the investigation showed.
The industry poured more than $1 million into election campaigns for members of Congress. The chief advocate for the legislation was Marino.
Both the House and Senate passed the legislation unanimously. President Barack Obama quickly signed it into law.
The Washington Post and 60 Minutes investigation said that lawmakers and Obama were unaware of the impact the bill would have when it was hastily pushed through Congress and signed into law.