GOP chairman blasts DEA over reduced opioid enforcement

GOP chairman blasts DEA over reduced opioid enforcement
© Greg Nash

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenDominant internet platforms must disrupt themselves Hammond pardons raise fears of emboldened anti-government extremists Oregon ranchers pardoned by Trump fly home on Pence donor's private jet MORE (R-Ore.) on Tuesday blasted the Drug Enforcement Administration for failing to provide information requested by the panel on why it has cut back enforcement actions against opioid distributors.

The committee had asked the DEA why it dramatically cut back on “immediate suspension orders” freezing suspicious shipments of opioids by drug distribution companies.

Walden said that the DEA has failed to provide answers to its questions about why those enforcement actions declined.

At a press conference Tuesday, Walden held up pages of heavily redacted documents that the DEA had sent to the committee.

“We are done waiting for their cooperation,” Walden said. “We’ve had it with the DEA.”

The questions were part of a bipartisan investigation into “pill dumping” of massive amounts of prescription opioids, which kill thousands of people each year from overdoses.

The committee found that in one case drug companies shipped 20 million pain pills over 10 years to two pharmacies in Williamson, W.Va., a town of just 3,000 people.

But Walden said DEA actions to stop suspicious shipments of opioids have declined from 65 in 2011 to only five in 2015.

A Washington Post–"60 Minutes" investigation in October highlighted that Congress had changed the law in 2016 to narrow the instances when the DEA can step in to freeze drug shipments.

But Rep. Diana DeGetteDiana Louise DeGetteOvernight Health Care: Anti-abortion groups see chance to overturn Roe v. Wade with Kennedy retirement | HHS watchdog to probe detention center conditions | VA pick vows to oppose privatization Skyrocketing insulin prices provoke new outrage Overnight Health Care: NJ gets its own health insurance mandate | Pushback over Trump pick for family planning program | GOP senator pushes FDA on implementing 'right to try' | Opioid prescriptions fall for fifth year MORE (D-Colo.), appearing alongside Walden, said that the decline in DEA actions began five years before the law was passed, suggesting it is not the driving factor.

The lawmakers said the DEA had declined to answer their questions about what caused the decline.

Since the investigation, DEA officials have told Congress that they support changes to the 2016 law.

But Walden said Tuesday that despite being asked, the DEA has not said specified what changes they would like to see.

“They have refused to share with us the information we need,” Walden said.

"DEA has cooperated with the House Energy and Commerce Committee over the last six months to provide it with a wide range of responsive materials to the maximum extent possible," the DEA said in a statement when asked about Walden's comments.

"DEA looks forward to its continued work with the Committee on its investigation and is committed to using all of its available resources to combat the opioid epidemic."

This story was updated at 4:22 p.m.