Cory Gardner Takes Worst of “Opiate-Gate” Fallout?

Sen. Cory Gardner (R).

After we took note this past weekend of local involvement in legislation now blamed for worsening the opioid painkiller addiction crisis in America by making it harder for the Drug Enforcement Administration to halt questionable drug shipments, Denver7’s Blair Miller ably followed up the story–documenting the co-sponsorship by both Cory Gardner and Mike Coffman of various iterations of the so-called Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, and taking the story in a somewhat different direction after it appears that now-Sen. Gardner had more involvement, and for longer, than Rep. Coffman in the drive to pass some form of this legislation:

Some of Colorado’s federal lawmakers say they are reviewing the ramifications of a 2016 law, of which two of the state’s congressmen cosponsored early versions, that some say has handcuffed the Drug Enforcement Administration in its fight against drug companies—something that was uncovered in a joint Washington Post-60 Minutes investigation published last week…

Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., had President Trump withdraw his nomination as the country’s next “drug czar” last week after the story published on Oct. 15, which showed he was the primary advocate in Congress for the law, which he pushed for at least two years ahead of its passage. Trump has said he would review the investigative report to determine what further action might need to be taken.

Marino, a former district attorney and U.S. Attorney appointed by President George W. Bush, introduced his first version of the bill, the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, in February 2014 while his hometown area was being crushed by opioid overdoses.

Gardner, who is now a U.S. senator but at the time was in the House, was the second cosponsor of that bill, which he tacked his name to just nine days after the measure was introduced.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who is aiming to replace Sen. Bob Corker as Tennessee’s senator in 2018 and is also under fire because of the investigation, was the first cosponsor.

As Miller explains in a story that’s necessarily kind of dense owing to the legislative complexities, Gardner and Coffman both signed on an initial version of this bill, and Gardner co-sponsored a second version produced after the first caused objections from the DEA. This second co-sponsorship by Gardner is important, as Miller continues, because

According to The [Washington] Post, Justice Department emails that summer from top congressional liaisons noted that the former DEA lawyer who went to work for the drug industry had written the second Marino bill.

Gardner signed on to cosponsor the bill that July 22, several weeks after [DEA agent Joseph] Rannazzisi blew up on a call with legislative staffers, saying the bill would lead to Congress “protecting criminals,” [Pols emphasis] according to The Post, which also reports that the congressional staffers told Rannazzisi they could no longer work with him.

The point here, and it’s a very important one, is that to the DEA the entire effort to pass this legislation “ensuring patient access” to opioid drugs was dubious. Even though Gardner and Coffman are working hard to make a distinction between the version of the bill that became law and the version they sponsored, the DEA didn’t like any of them–“fixing a problem that doesn’t need fixing” according to one memo on an early version. And although the DEA didn’t fight the final version of the bill, that only came after a very tense standoff between Rep. Tom Marino and the agency he accused of trying to “intimidate Congress.”

What are the takeaways from this story with these additional facts illuminated? For starters, it should be a generally acknowledged point that the pharmaceutical industry owns Congress. If this bill had been proposed while Democrats had been in control, it might have also passed on a voice vote–and yes, we might be having a very different conversation about it in 2017.

But it wasn’t Democrats Big Pharma needed. And in the Republican majority in Congress, the industry found all the support they needed. Gardner and Coffman never at any point “pulled their names off” this legislation, they just didn’t co-sponsor the final version. And sure, they have reasons they can cite now, but there’s nothing to indicate they objected in any visible way then.

Bottom line: the campaign ads may need to use precise language. But they will still write themselves.

12 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Moderatus says:

    You admit that Democrats would have passed the bill too. Obama signed it. What are you trying to prove?

    • unnamed says:

      Uh.  That this issue is on Republicans since they passed it.

      Have reading comprehension issues nutlid?

    • mamajama55 says:

      HR4709, the "Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2014" was never audited by the Office of Management and Budget, because the sponsoring legislators lied about the budget and policy impact. When Obama signed it, he did not know that the DEA's powers had been so drastically curbed.

      Besides the sponsors and co-sponsors of the bill, few lawmakers knew the true impact the law would have. It sailed through Congress without debate and was passed by unanimous consent, a parliamentary procedure reserved for bills considered to be noncontroversial. The White House was equally unaware of the bill’s import when President Barack Obama signed it into law, according to interviews with former senior administration officials.

      So is it the person who is lied to, that is insufficiently suspicious, or the person who does the lying, who is most at fault? I know what I think.

      HR4709 drastically limited the DEA's authority to freeze or even investigate large, suspicious shipments of opioid pills. It was vigorously lobbied for by Big Pharma. Obama signed it into law without the OMB even knowing about this policy change, <a href="">according to the Washington Post.


  2. ParkHill says:

    WOTD Reveal Investigative Report: "Too Many Pills"

    I caught most of this stunning episode from Reveal on public radio Tuesday. The DEA actually has (or had) an office with the resources and power to shut down suspicious drug distributors shipments instantly when huge deliveries are discovered. By huge, we're talking millions of doses going to a random small-town pharmacy with cash-only sales policy, a parking lot full of out-of-state cars, and a line of customers out the door. 

    Rannazzisi was the DEA agent in charge of shutting down deliveries. He had a spectacular success rate, and never lost a shut-down case, until higher-ups in the DEA stonewalled his cases. At that point Congress stepped in to offer protection to the large pharma companies and the large delivery companies.

    That's what Cory Gardner voted for.

    One part of the story that floored me was when the drug distributors complained that they couldn't be expected to keep track of every shipment to every mom-and-pop pharmacy in podunk america.

    Yeah; Right! It's called the sales department, and there is this tool called Excel, and there are Harvard MBA grads… Sales are up this year! Why? Why does a town of 300 people receive millions of doses of Oxy?

    • MichaelBowman says:

      Methland is a must-read if you’re interested in how BigPharma has controlled the White House and Congress all the way back to the Reagan Administration. I believe they are also the largest contributors to McConnell’s coffers, but it hasn’t mattered who was in the majority  – they’re in control. 

    • MichaelBowman says:

      Keerist.  The new f#@king Jim Crow.  #MAGA, one incarcerated man of color at a time. 

      With business booming under Trump, private prison giant’s leaders gathered at president’s resort

      DORAL, Fla. — In recent years, the private prison company GEO Group has held its annual leadership conference at venues near its Boca Raton headquarters. But this year, the company moved its gathering to a Miami-area golf resort owned by President Trump. 

      The event last week, during which executives and wardens gathered for four days of meetings, dinner receptions and golf outings at the luxurious 800-acre Trump National Doral, followed an intense effort by GEO Group to align itself with the president and his administration.

      During last year’s election, a company subsidiary gave $225,000 to a pro-Trump super PAC. GEO gave an additional $250,000 to the president’s inaugural committee. It also hired as outside lobbyists a major Trump fundraiser and two former aides to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, one of the president’s most prominent campaign backers.

      GEO Group, meanwhile, has had newfound success in Trump’s Washington.

      The company secured the administration’s first contract for an immigration detention center, a deal worth tens of millions a year. And its stock price has tripled since hitting a low last year when the Obama administration sought to phase out the use of private prisons — a decision that Sessions reversed.

    • notaskinnycook says:

      Just as important: unless these pills are going out the back door of the pharmacy for cash, who is writing the prescriptions for them? They are Schedule II drugs. A new 'scrip' is required for each bottle, so who is green-lighting the sales? This sounds like as much a question for the AMA as the DEA.

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