By David Heitz
A bombshell “60 Minutes” and Washington Post investigation into the opioid epidemic has reverberated from sea to shining sea in just a few days.
The shocking expose broadcast Sunday on CBS showed how Pharma’s auxiliary machinery funneled millions and millions of pain pills – illegally — into communities where the most people were dying of overdose.
But it only proved to be the tip of the iceberg.
They got by with it because the Pharma lobby, spending a quarter of a billion dollars last year to massage our elected representatives in Washington, distracted both parties of both houses.
Even if, perhaps, not directly, or even knowingly on the part of lawmakers.
But if they didn’t know, they sure should have. Most Americans expect diligence from their elected officials, particularly on matters as serious as the opioid epidemic.
We knew it, say people both actively addicted to opioids as well as those in recovery, along with the thousands of Americans who have lost loved ones to overdose.
And their swift demands for change on social media already have toppled one official who was standing outside the door of the president’s inner circle, about to be allowed inside.
As the nation’s drug czar.
Founder of NOPE Task Force: ‘What is going on with the DEA?’
In a statement to SobrietyResources.org, Karen Perry, founder of NOPE Task Force, described her reaction as she saw whistleblower Joe Rannazzisi tell CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker the disturbing details.
“Joe spoke at the National RX conference hosted by operation Unite several years when it first began. He was a very informative great speaker (explaining how) the DEA controlled how many pills the manufacturers could produce each year.
“Not knowing the reason Joe left, this past year I was thinking what is going on with the DEA? Why are they allowing for so many pills to be produced? Now, I know.
“It is truly horrific those (all involved) we trusted with our safety have betrayed us. Too many families struggle with addiction and far too many families are saddened with loss.
“I am grateful that Joe spoke up. His voice will surely help to change the atmosphere of the DEA and hopefully help to save lives.”
As if the story could not possibly be more horrific, the high-ranking Rannazzisi – indeed, he ran the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control, charged with monitoring Pharma and its support service tentacles – wound up being investigated for “intimidating the U.S. Congress” and later lost his job.
This, after he testified before Congress to the aforementioned hazards in an effort to fix it. He also was intimidated during the hearings by smug lawmakers who refused to take personal responsibility.
Lawmakers silence Rannazzisi, make it easy for companies to break law
Meanwhile, ex-DEA staffers jumped to the other side and worked in conjunction with Fortune 500 pill distributors and the Department of Justice to slam the brakes on enforcement of laws aimed at shutting rogue distributors down.
They succeeded, managing to send the most inappropriate legislation imaginable through the hallowed halls of Washington as easily as a child sails a paper airplane onto the teacher’s desk.
President Obama swiftly signed the bill, which had bi-partisan support, the support of the DEA and not one vote against it in either house. The bill’s name?
The “Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act.”
If it sounds too politically correct to be true, it probably is.
And now, the government can’t prosecute the mammoth companies such as Cardinal Health, which are responsible for funneling the pills to the places that don’t need them.
In one jaw-dropping piece of footage, a tiny pharmacy in a tiny West Virginia town is seen with business booming. Customers flood in and out as though only an hour is left to buy a chance at a billion-dollar lottery ticket from a store already known for delivering the goods. (1)
Who sponsored this rogue legislation? None other than the man tapped to be President Trump’s drug czar, Sen. Tom Marino.
Marino withdrew from the nomination in disgrace Tuesday, and Trump wasted little time vowing to declare the opioid crisis a “National Emergency.” Such designation makes funding more readily available to fight the crisis.
States devastated by epidemic largely went to Trump
How the president handles the fallout of the scandal will be critical to his success or failure as a politician. Trump won the so-called “Opioid Belt,” where thousands of people addicted to opioids are dying.
These include states like West Virginia and others in Appalachia, such as Kentucky and Tennessee.
And yet, Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, one of the sponsors of the bill stripping the DEA of its powers, seemed to delight in her condescending remarks to Rannazzisi when he testified before Congress prior to his ouster.
Her constituents are railing her for it. (2)
Even more shocking is that several national behavioral health companies that treat opioid addiction are headquartered in Tennessee.
One wonders just how Pharma greed possibly could get any worse when, already, most people addicted to opioids have to get off opioids using “opioid maintenance therapy” – none other than more opioids made by Pharma. Quitting opioids cold turkey can be dangerous and deadly, although many succeed under medical supervision.
Some people who enter recovery refuse opioid maintenance therapy out of a desire to truly beat the drug and have a lasting chance of recovery.
A Missouri Congresswoman on Tuesday vowed to undo the damage caused by the bill by introducing her own legislation.
Recovery community demands change
While Sunday’s report was both shocking and infuriating to anyone struggling with addiction and those who care about them, history likely will define it as a pivotal moment.
Some have stopped just short of comparing the magnitude of the 60 Minutes/Washington Post story to Watergate.
Recovery groups on Facebook and Twitter mobilized Monday after the story broke. They posted online petitions, phone numbers of elected representatives and the White House, and urged their followers to actively demand change.
Specifically, they demanded Marino be removed from consideration for the job of drug czar.
They not only won, but in short order.
Mendell, founder of Shatterproof, told Fox News that the president declaring a national emergency is exactly what the country needs.
“People are talking about this more and more, but if the president were to declare this a national emergency, it creates recognition around the country and awareness around the country that this epidemic needs right now,” he said. (3)
Mendell founded Shatterproof, a non-profit seeking to be the go-to for drug abuse prevention information for young people. Mendell’s son battled addiction and mental illness until he hung himself.
As America laughed at Nancy Reagan, Pharma told us we deserve to be pain-free
As Nancy Reagan was telling children to “Just Say No,” a campaign that has been mocked ever since for oversimplifying addiction, the medical establishment was rolling out the “Smiley Face Pain Scale.”
The medical establishment at that time argued that pain was the “fifth vital sign” and that nobody should have to suffer needlessly. They argued opioid pain pills were not addictive.
Now, everyone from public officials to grandmothers of teens who overdosed say they’re tired of all the lies.
Just last night, Erie County, Pennsylvania’s board voted to hire three lawyers, according to GoErie.com, to “investigate, litigate or negotiate for settlement claims ‘related to the marketing, prescribing, distribution or sale of opioids’ against drugmakers and distributors.” (4)
Washington is going to have its hands full with angry Americans for a long time, thanks to “60 Minutes” and the Washington Post.
- Ex-DEA agent: Opioid crisis fueled by drug industry and Congress. 60 Minutes and Washington Post. Retrieved Oct. 18, 2017, from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ex-dea-agent-opioid-crisis-fueled-by-drug-industry-and-congress/
- Ebert, J. (2017, Oct. 16). Marsha Blackburn: Drug law had ‘unintended consequences,’ should be revisited ‘immediately.’ The Tennessean. Retrieved Oct. 18, 2017, from http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2017/10/16/60-minutes-opioid-tennessee-marsha-blackburn-tom-marino-congress/767510001/
- Schallhorn, K. (2017, Oct. 17). Trump to declare opioid epidemic national emergency. Here’s what that means. Fox News. Retrieved Oct. 18, 2017, from http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/10/17/trump-to-declare-opioid-epidemic-national-emergency-here-s-what-that-means.html
- Rink, M. (2017, Oct. 17). County hires law firms to sue drug companies over opioid epidemic. GoErie.com. Retrieved Oct. 18, 2017, from http://www.goerie.com/news/20171017/county-hires-law-firms-to-sue-drug-companies-over-opioid-epidemic