Like many, I am infuriated over the recent news stories from 60 Minutes and The Washington Post about how leading pharmaceutical companies, makers of the opioids killing nearly 150 Americans a day, many still in their youth, are bedding down with members of Congress. No wonder we can’t seem to make any real progress toward solving our nation’s current opioid epidemic.
Much of the story is about a former top agent at the Drug Enforcement Administration, Joe Rannazzisi, who ran the division responsible for preventing, detecting, and investigating the diversion of controlled pharmaceuticals and listed chemicals from legitimate sources. Rannazzisi, who was forced out in 2015, led a decade-long mission of building cases against major drug traffickers and drug companies.
He has since become a whistleblower and told the Post, “The drug industry, the manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors and chain drugstores, have an influence over Congress that has never been seen before.”
My search for more information to better understand how something this outrageous happens led me to our board member Jimmy Capra, who spent more than 27 years at DEA. Prior to his retirement, Jimmy served as the chief of global operations and Rannazzisi once worked for him as the director of diversion control.
There’s more to this story, including that Rannazzisi was personally targeted by a guy named Tom Marino. Texans who didn’t see Sunday night’s episode of 60 Minutes may not know Marino’s name but those in our field might know that Pennsylvania Congressman Tom Marino is President Trump’s nominee to become the next director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
Although ONDCP is no longer a cabinet-level position, it does still serve as our nation’s primary drug policy maker and funds all of our country’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTAs).
When I spoke with Jimmy, he urged me to let people know that the appointment is “highly suspect.”
“DPR and other prevention agencies should be very concerned that an individual who has been nominated by the president to serve as the head of the United States’ main drug policy program is tied to pharmaceutical companies the way that Marino is,” were Jimmy’s words.
Now, after this 24-hour news cycle, President Trump says he’s “going to be looking into” the Tom Marino business. Will he squash Marino’s nomination to become our country’s next drug czar? I certainly hope so.
It appears as if Trump may be feeling the pressure. During his Rose Garden press conference today, President Trump said he’ll make a “major announcement probably next week” about the opioid crisis, and that he wants to get it “absolutely right.”
People are speculating that Trump’s announcement will be the one he’s been sitting on making since he first alluded to declaring a state of emergency around the opioid crisis. For those who are counting, it has been 67 days since he made that promise, and 9,530 more people have died.
This is appalling and the clock is ticking. I’ve called the White House to share my thoughts. If you want to do the same, the number is 202-456-1111. Please let us know what you think.
UPDATE: Thanks to unrelenting pressure from advocates all across the country, Tom Marino withdrew his name for consideration as ONDCP director.