Trump's Drug Czar Nominee Withdraws After Getting Exposed In Opioid Scandal

President Trump's nominee for America's "drug czar" (i.e. the country's chief strategist for drug policy) has become a casualty of the opioid epidemic that he allegedly fuelled with atrocious drug policy. Congressman Ted Marino (R-PA) withdrew his name from consideration today amid calls for his nomination to be retracted after a joint investigation by '60 Minutes' and The Washington Post exposed Marino in an opioid scandal.

Pressure has been mounting on Trump to rescind Marino's nomination since last weekend, when '60 Minutes' revealed that the congressman had exacerbated America's opioid epidemic by introducing a bill in 2014 that made it virtually impossible for the DEA to bust crooked drug distributors. The DEA had begun cracking down on suppliers after discovering that some were sending suspicious shipments across America. Like the 9,000,000 hydrocodone pills that were sent over a two-year period to the town of Kermit, West Virginia, which has a population of just 392 people.

But when DEA agents went after these pill pushers, the Fortune 500 companies backing them began pressuring Congress to make federal drug enforcers stand down. One of their top allies was Congressman Marino, who stepped up to introduce the bill written by Big Pharma to make the DEA back off. According to the '60 Minutes'/WaPo investigation, the legislation was written by Linden Barber — a lawyer who became a drug lobbyist within a month after leaving his post with the DEA. So Barber crafted a bill specifically to get around DEA regulations and tabbed Marino to pass it. 

"It's not surprising that this bill, that has intimate knowledge of the way that DEA, you know, regulations are enforced, the way that those laws work, was written by someone who spent a lot of time there, charged a lot of cases there," former DEA attorney Jonathan Novak told '60 Minutes.'

And when former DEA agent Joe Rannazzisi told a Congressional committee that the bill would debilitate efforts to combat crooked suppliers, Marino responded by calling on the Department of Justice to investigate Rannazzisi for trying to intimidate Congress. His actions left drug-enforcement agents baffled.

"I just don't understand why Congress would pass a bill that strips us of our authority in the height of an opioid epidemic in places like Congressman Marino's district," Rannazzisi told '60 Minutes.' "Why are these people sponsoring bills, when people in their backyards are dying from drugs that are coming from the same people that these bills are protecting?"

Money is the likeliest answer. Congressman Marino was "showered with campaign contributions" from the pharmaceutical industry, according to Rebecca Savransky of The Hill. Meanwhile, his Chief of Staff Bill Tighe, his point-man on the bill, became a lobbyist for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores within a year after the bill became law in 2016.

But after this story came to light, federal lawmakers like Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) called on Trump to remove Marino from consideration as drug czar. Marino spared Trump the trouble by withdrawing himself from consideration.

Marino's withdrawal is a win for advocates fighting for drug reform in the face of a prescription ill crisis that is raging across America. But it's also cold comfort to the families of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have died due to the overdose epidemic. 

Latest.

Proponents of the War on Drugs often claim that it's about keeping communities safe. But US drug laws are based less on public health and more on social control, according to Diane Goldstein—Chair of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP). "I think what's critically important is that most Americans recognize that, inherently, our drug laws have never been about public health," Goldstein told Civilized.