DEA, DOJ back changes to law linked to opioid crisis

DEA, DOJ back changes to law linked to opioid crisis
© Greg Nash

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Department of Justice both support changing a controversial law that led to the withdrawal of President TrumpDonald John TrumpJulián Castro: It's time for House Democrats to 'do something' about Trump Warren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest MORE’s nominee to be the nation’s drug czar earlier this year.

Rep. Tom MarinoThomas (Tom) Anthony MarinoWhy the North Carolina special election has national implications The Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push Republican wins special House election in Pennsylvania MORE (R-Pa.) asked that his nomination be withdrawn after 60 Minutes and The Washington Post in a joint report said a law he spearheaded through Congress had weakened the enforcement of the nation’s drug policing laws, perhaps contributing to the opioid crisis.


Since that report, lawmakers have talked of changing or repealing the law, and on Tuesday, a key DEA official told a congressional panel that Justice and the DEA would like to see the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act changed.

Demetra Ashley, the acting assistant administrator of the DEA’s Diversion Control Division, did not go into details on how the legislation should be changed, but said standards needed for the agency to suspend suspicious drug shipments should be relaxed.

Under the current law, the DEA must establish a “substantial likelihood of an immediate threat that death, serious bodily harm or abuse of a controlled substance will occur” in order to suspend shipments.

“The concern now, prior to the legislation, we were in a preventative mode,” Ashley told the Senate Judiciary Committee in a hearing on Tuesday. “We want to stop this distributor from making shipments before there's harm done, so we could identify violations of the Controlled Substances Act solely that the distributor committed.”

“The current legislation requires that we establish a substantial likelihood of immediate death, bodily harm and abuse. Prior to that, we would only need to establish the increased potential for diversion,” she added.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzState Department's top arms control official leaving Sanders NASA plan is definitely Earth first Trump judicial picks face rare GOP opposition MORE (R-Texas), who was quizzing Ashley when she made the remarks, asked what the DEA specifically wants to change.

Ashley responded that she wasn’t an attorney and didn’t want to misspeak, but expressed a willingness to work with the committee to hammer out the correct language. Cruz asked her to put in writing the specific ways the DEA believes the bill should change.

“We can’t understand what you’re requesting if the agency doesn’t request it clearly and with language attached,” Cruz added.

Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump eyes narrowly focused response to Iran attacks Kavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Senate GOP pledges to oppose any efforts to 'pack' Supreme Court MORE (D-R.I.), a co-sponsor of the bill last year, expressed his annoyance.

“It’s incredibly frustrating to have the agency that signed off on this and supported it all the way through to the president of the United States, now saying that it needs a change, but it’s unable to articulate what that change is,” he said.

Supporters of the law say it provides a balance so that those who need painkillers can get them while also letting the DEA prevent the sale and abuse of opioids.

Since his withdrawal, Marino has pushed back on the law's harm and pointed to the fact that the House and Senate passed the bill unanimously.