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Trump pick for drug czar Tom Marino pulls out after report on opioid bill role

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Trump pick for drug czar Tom Marino pulls out after report on opioid bill role” was written by Ben Jacobs in Washington and Martin Pengelly in New York, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 17th October 2017 23.15 UTC

Tom Marino, the Pennsylvania congressman who Donald Trump nominated to be his “drug czar”, has withdrawn from consideration, the president announced on Tuesday.

Almost 100 people are dying every day across America from opioid overdoses – more than car crashes and shootings combined. The majority of these fatalities reveal widespread addiction to powerful prescription painkillers. The crisis unfolded in the mid-90s when the US pharmaceutical industry began marketing legal narcotics, particularly OxyContin, to treat everyday pain. This slow-release opioid was vigorously promoted to doctors and, amid lax regulation and slick sales tactics, people were assured it was safe. But the drug was akin to luxury morphine, doled out like super aspirin, and highly addictive. What resulted was a commercial triumph and a public health tragedy. Belated efforts to rein in distribution fueled a resurgence of heroin and the emergence of a deadly, black market version of the synthetic opioid fentanyl. The crisis is so deep because it affects all races, regions and incomes

“Rep Tom Marino has informed me that he is withdrawing his name from consideration as drug czar,” the president tweeted. “Tom is a fine man and a great congressman!”

Marino is a four-term representative who in February 2016 became the fifth member of Congress to endorse Trump’s campaign for the White House. From 2002 to 2007 he was US attorney for the middle district of Pennsylvania, under George W Bush.

Marino was nominated to lead the National Office of Drug Control Policy, a key role in efforts to tackle the epidemic in opioid addiction and abuse that Trump on Monday called a “massive problem”, saying that he would make a major announcement on the subject next week.

On Sunday, Marino was the subject of a joint report by the Washington Post and 60 Minutes about his role as the sponsor of a bill that critics say undermined federal enforcement efforts against the opioid epidemic.

The bill made it far more difficult for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to crack down on drug companies that made suspicious shipments of opioids.

On Tuesday afternoon, Marino said in a statement that he had decided “to remove the distraction my nomination has created to the utterly vital mission of this premier agency”.

“At the same time,” he added, “given my lifelong devotion to law enforcement, I insist on correcting the record regarding the false accusations and unfair reporting to which I have been subjected.”

Citing his legislative work as evidence of his commitment to fighting drug abuse, he blamed “conspiracy theories from individuals seeking to avert blame from their own failures to address the opioid crisis that proliferated during their tenure”, specifically “false allegations made by a former DEA employee”.

Trump said in an interview with Fox News Radio on Tuesday, “Tom Marino said, ‘Look, I’ll take a pass. I have no choice. I really will take a pass, I want to do it.’

“And he was very gracious, I have to say that. He didn’t want to have – he didn’t want to have even the perception of a conflict of interest with drug companies or, frankly, insurance companies.”

On Monday, at a Rose Garden press conference with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, Trump called Marino “a good guy” but said: “We’re going to look into the report. We’re going to take it very seriously.”

The president then said he planned to speak to Marino and “if I think it’s 1% negative to doing what we want to do, I will make a change”.

Among Democrats, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a conservative representing a state ravaged by opioid addiction, called on Trump to withdraw Marino’s nomination.

In a letter to the president, Manchin said the opioid crisis was “the biggest public health crisis since HIV/Aids”. The leader of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, he wrote, should “protect our people, not the pharmaceutical industry”.

“Congressman Marino no longer has my trust or that of the public that he will aggressively pursue the fight against opioid abuse,” Manchin wrote.

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said on Monday confirming Marino would be like “putting the wolf in charge of the henhouse”. On Tuesday morning, the New York Democrat welcomed Marino’s decision to withdraw.

“[Representative] Marino’s decision to withdraw from consideration as drug czar is the right decision,” Schumer said, “though the fact that he was nominated in the first place is further evidence that when it comes to the opioid crisis, the Trump administration talks the talk but refuses to walk the walk.”

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