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EDITORIAL: No drug for legislative malpractice

Times-Tribune - 10/18/2017

Oct. 18--There is no drug for the sort of narrow-interest pandering in which "60 Minutes" and The Washington Post recently caught Rep. Tom Marino, the 10th District Republican from Lycoming County. But there is a cure -- term limits.

Marino withdrew his name Tuesday from consideration to head the National Office of Drug Control Policy. The two news organizations revealed over the weekend that the would-be "drug czar" had received nearly $100,000 in campaign contributions from interests tied to the manufacture and distribution of opioid painkillers, while sponsoring a bill that severely diminished the Drug Enforcement Administration's legal authority to police those industries.

Marino's legislative malpractice is tied directly to the opioid addiction epidemic. Controlling the distribution of legal opioids is a crucial element in stopping the carnage. According to a preliminary analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose deaths rose by more than 22 percent in 2016 from 2015, to more than 64,000, including 20,100 from the synthetic opioid fentanyl and related opioid analogues, 15,400 from heroin and 14,400 from prescription opioids. The role of prescription opioids is greater than the death toll alone, however, because many of the people who died using heroin, fentanyl or other synthetic opioids first were addicted to prescription opioids.

Marino pushed the bill as a means to ensure that people legitimately in need of opioid pain relievers would be able to get them. As DEA whistleblowers and others have made clear, however, the law eviscerated the DEA's authority to investigate and stop massive shipments of opioids to pill mills that funneled them into the black market.

No one in Congress questioned the official explanation for the law, which passed with scant debate and which President Obama signed without comment in 2016.

Given that the broader pharmaceutical industry had spent $106 million on lobbying and campaign contributions from 2014 through 2016, hundreds of members of Congress apparently were not eager to examine the bill.

Fundraising for re-election campaigns is Congress' own addiction, to the point that it drives public policy -- in this case, off the cliff.

Only term limits can turn the gaze of representatives and senators from the mechanics of their own re-elections, which increasingly means special-interest funding, to the broader public interest.


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