Former DEA agent: Congress, drug industry hindered opioid crackdown
A former employee of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said in a new interview on Sunday that efforts to stem the growing opioid epidemic in the U.S. were derailed by pressure from large pharmaceutical companies and Congress.
Joe Rannazzisi told CBS’s “60 Minutes” that major distributors, including Cardinal Health, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen, allowed drugs to be obtained by rogue pharmacies and pain clinics, which then prescribed them to Americans “who had no legitimate need for those drugs.”
As the opioid epidemic grew steadily worse, Rannazzisi, who at the time was the head of the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control, said he helped launch a crackdown on the companies, which included slapping heavy fines on them.
But Rannazzisi said the drug industry used money and influence to pressure lawyers at the Department of Justice, which oversees the DEA, to go easy on the companies.
The former DEA agent said superiors called him to have him explain his tactics. “And it infuriated me that I was over there, trying to explain what my motives were or why I was going after these corporations?” Rannazzisi said in the interview.
Rannazzisi’s efforts were further complicated in 2013, when a new piece of legislation, written by former DEA employee Linden Barber and backed by the drug industry, began making its way through Congress.
According to the “60 Minutes” report, the bill, introduced in the House by Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), stripped the DEA of its power to freeze shipments of suspicious narcotics — an essential tool used by the DEA to combat the spread of opioids.
Rannazzisi, who publicly opposed the bill, drew the ire of Marino and Blackburn, who called on DOJ to investigate him for trying to “intimidate the United States Congress,” according to “60 Minutes.”
Rannazzisi was eventually stripped of his responsibilities and resigned, according to the report.
“We were totally focused on all these people dying and all these drugs being diverted. And — and we were not really looking at our flanks, waiting for someone to come after us. So maybe that was my fault,” Rannazzisi said in the interview.