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Op-Ed: Congress and Big Pharma lobby created opioid epidemic in U.S.

In an exclusive investigation published on Monday, the Guardian, with the help of Joseph Rannazzisi, head of the DEA office responsible for preventing prescription medicine abuse until last year, explained how Congress has been kowtowing to the drug industry.

Rannazzisi is accusing Congress of putting Big Pharma profits ahead of the public’s health in the opioid addiction crisis in this country. Rannazzisi told the Guardian that drug companies and their lobbyists have a “stranglehold” on Congress.

And with profits of $9 billion a year on the trade in opioid painkillers, the fact that nearly 19,000 people a year are being killed because of those profits is not really their concern.

Rannazzisi says the drug industry engineered recently passed legislation in April 2016 called the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act. Under this law, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is supposed to warn pharmacies and distributors if they are in violation of the law.

In other words, the law says crooked doctors and pharmacies are to be given a warning first if they are in breach of the law governing the dispensing of opioids, giving them a chance to comply with the law before their licenses are withdrawn.

Rannazzisi says the law was a “gift to the industry” because it limits what the DEA is allowed to do. “This doesn’t ensure patient access and it doesn’t help drug enforcement at all,” he said. “What this bill does is take away the DEA’s ability to go after a pharmacist, a wholesaler, manufacturer or distributor.”

“The bill passed because ‘Big Pharma’ wanted it to pass,” he added. “When I was in charge what I tried to do was explain to my investigators and my agents that our job was to regulate the industry and they’re not going to like being regulated.”

And that seems to be the crux of the matter. The Big Pharma lobby has spent millions of dollars in the past fifteen years or so, just to influence opioid legislation. They have also created widespread opposition to the new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on opioid prescriptions.

Lee Fang of The Intercept laid bare Big Pharma’s hand in getting Congress to pass some meaningless legislation that called for the guidelines “to be reviewed and potentially changed by a new panel made up of representatives from a range of stakeholders, and for the revisions to incorporate ‘pain management’ expertise from the ‘private sector.'”

But the accusations only get worse. In July, the Comprehensive Addiction & Recovery Act (Cara) passed the Senate. CARA calls for a pain management taskforce, funding into addiction research, better access to treatment options and drug rehabilitation.

But guess what? The Republican-held Senate refused to fund the law. “The bill was ‘comprehensive’ in name only; without funding, its policies are little more than empty promises,” reads a report, Dying Waiting for Treatment, issued by Senate Democrats.

And don’t think our lawmakers aren’t taking their share of Big Pharma’s handouts. Senator Orrin Hatch, chairman of the finance committee pocketed $360,000 from the drug industry, according to the Center for Public Integrity and Representative Mike Rogers became over $300,000 richer.

The list goes on and on, with Rannazzisi citing entities such as the American Chronic Pain Association and the US Pain Foundation which receive millions in funding from the opioid drug industry. In all fairness, the directors of the two foundations say the drug companies do not influence anything they do.

But the bottom line in Rannazzisi’s accusations is that the drug industry is responsible in many ways for the opioid addiction problem we have today. And yes, these companies exert a great deal of influence in getting legislation passed that is to their benefit.

If you think about it for a minute, we don’t have a Congress that is putting our best interests, regardless of it being our health, or anything else, at heart. As long as some big company has the lobbyists and money to spend, they can buy anyone’s vote, and that is exactly what is happening.

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Written By

Karen Graham is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for environmental news. Karen's view of what is happening in our world is colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in man's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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