Alaska takes aim at bill blocking seizures of opioids
Alaska has joined more than four-fifths of U.S. states in asking Congress to repeal a key bill blocking federal enforcement actions against opioid makers, in the wake of an investigative news story which has rocked several figures and institutions in the opioid crisis.
The letter, targeting last year’s Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, follows a Washington Post and “60 Minutes” story last month chronicling how it stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration’s ability to stop suspicious drug shipments from opioid suppliers. The act’s chief backer, Rep. Tom Marino (R-Penn.), had been tapped as drug czar by President Trump but withdrew from consideration in the wake of the story.
The Monday letter, from the National Association of Attorneys General, is addressed to lawmakers including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as well as House and Senate minority leaders Nancy Pelosi and Charles Schumer. It calls upon them to repeal the act because it “neither safeguards patient access to medication nor allows for effective drug enforcement efforts.”
“The federal and state governments need all the tools we can get to help fight the opioid crisis,” Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said in a statement announcing her signing of the letter. “What the 2016 law effectively did was remove the ability to hold drug manufacturers and distributors accountable for their actions. I join my fellow attorneys general in urging Congress to repeal this dangerous law.”
Cori Mills, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Law, said Tuesday that the push to repeal the act was closely linked to a suit by Alaska and several other states targeting OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma over deceptive practices in marketing the drug. It also follows Gov. Bill Walker’s declaration that the opioid crisis constitutes a state disaster.
Paul Miovas, the head of the state’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, said Tuesday that the national association had sent out a draft of the letter, requesting commentary and signatures from attorneys general. He added that Lindemuth’s decision to do so was a product of the act itself, rather than news coverage regarding it.
“That was something I reviewed, and I did some independent research and weighed in with [Lindemuth] and said that we should sign on to this letter,” Miovas said. “Any advice that I offered and any research I did on this case had nothing to do with the media reports – it had more to do with what the law did when it was changed, and what the impact would be if it was changed back.”
Mills said the letter was also forwarded to Alaska’s congressional delegation, for reference. No immediate response from the congressional leaders had been received by Tuesday morning.
The letter was signed by attorneys general for 42 U.S. states, as well as the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The eight states not signing the letter included Arizona; Arkansas; Kansas; Tennessee; Texas; Utah; Wisconsin and Wyoming.