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Trump’s drug czar nominee under fire for pushing bill that weakened drug enforcement

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Some Democratic lawmakers are calling on President Donald Trump to withdraw his nomination of Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy following a report that found Marino spearheaded a law that undermined the Drug Enforcement Authority’s (DEA) ability to go after drug distributors.

Should Marino be confirmed as the “drug czar,” he would be tasked with developing and implementing policies to manage drug addiction and misuse. But in the midst of an opioid epidemic that has killed hundreds of thousands across the country — an epidemic that would be a central focus of Marino’s as drug czar — the representative pushed a law that made suspicious opioid distribution harder for the DEA to curb.

“Confirming Representative Marino as our nation’s drug czar is like putting the wolf in charge of the hen house,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement Monday afternoon.

Schumer’s call echoes a letter Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) sent Trump earlier Monday.

“The head of this office… is a key voice in helping to push and implement strategies to prevent drug abuse, stop drug trafficking, and promote access to substance use disorder treatment,” the letter said. “The [Washington Post report] calls into question Congressman Marino’s ability to fill this critical role in a manner that will serve the American people and end the epidemic.”

Manchin’s daughter is the CEO of pharmaceutical giant Mylan, and the senator defended his daughter and Mylan last year when the company hiked the prices of EpiPens.

But Manchin struck a different tone Monday, noting one pharmaceutical company mentioned in the report, Miami-Luken, that shipped 20 million doses of oxycodone and hydrocodone to pharmacies in West Virginia between 2007 and 2012.

“This included 11 million doses in one small county with only 25,000 people,” Manchin wrote. “As the number of pills in my state increased, so did the death toll in our communities.”

On Monday morning, the Washington Post published a report detailing Marino’s work pushing a pharma-friendly bill through Congress earlier this year. The law, which was a result of aggressive lobbying efforts by the pharmaceutical industry, weakened “aggressive DEA enforcement efforts against drug distribution companies that were supplying corrupt doctors and pharmacists who peddled narcotics to the black market,” as the Post put it.

In the past, the DEA has fined drug distributors when they fail to shut down suspicious sales of millions of pills, but the new law, spearheaded by Marino, makes it nearly impossible for the agency to freeze suspicious shipments, according to the report.

The Post also notes that, other than the bill’s sponsors and co-sponsors, few in Congress were aware what the effects of the bill would be.

“They made it and camouflaged it so well that all of us — all of us — were fooled,” Manchin told CBS News Monday. “That bill has to be retracted.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill moved to do just that Monday, announcing she would introduce legislation that would repeal the bill.

Trump defended Marino Monday afternoon during a press conference at the White House, saying the representative was a “very early supporter” of his and a “great guy,” but said he was “looking into” the Post report.

Earlier this year, Marino withdrew himself from consideration for the drug czar position, citing a critical illness in his family. He later put himself up for consideration once again, and Trump announced he intended to nominate Marino as drug czar last month.

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