My Turn: We shouldn’t accept drug corruption as ‘the way it is’


Saturday, January 06, 2018

I attended Congressman Richard Neal’s opioid forum in Shelburne Falls recently. While we in the Commonwealth have reason to be proud that so many of those involved in law enforcement and treatment here have shown the rest of the nation leadership in enlightened and creative programs to deal with this, I was troubled by recent revelations on “60 Minutes” of our government’s actions to stop a successful DEA program.

The Justice Department had brought pressure to curtail the Drug Diversion function of DEA, which regulated the diversion of pharmaceutical drugs from medically necessary use to the black market. There were many egregious cases where there was no question of the conscious illegitimate destinations of these drugs. When pressure from the Justice Department, which seemingly was more concerned with the happiness of Big Pharma, didn’t stop the dedicated head of this program, he was forced out of his job.

Then Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), who recently withdrew his name from consideration for the job of “drug czar,” pushed through a bill in a mostly empty chamber by unanimous consent to prevent the DEA from stopping these “suspicious” sales, and bringing criminal charges, which had been resulting in successful prosecutions against the white collar pushers. In one case, millions of OxyContin pills were sent to a small, rural county in West Virginia with only a few thousand residents. No one of reasonable intelligence could believe that this could possibly be in the best interest of the people, so why did it happen?

About $1.5 million in campaign donations to our representatives from the pharmaceutical companies is the only possible answer. While you might assume that this was yet another Trump Administration outrage, you would be wrong. It happened under Obama. When I asked Mr. Neal, a Democrat, about this, he replied that he was not in the chamber at the time and therefore was not part of the vote by unanimous consent.

My question as to what, if anything, he now intended to do to rectify this situation went unanswered. I asked whether he planned to return the $15,000 he has received in donations from McKesson Corp., one of the big three drug companies cited in the “60 Minutes” report, or redirect the money to groups trying to fight the effects of this epidemic.

It would be an insignificant amount considering the reported $3 million he has in his war chest. He responded that McKesson never attempted to lobby him “on this issue.”

Apparently, Rep. Neal is not troubled by having received money from the American “drug cartel.” Nor did he seem to be particularly bothered by the fact that many from DEA and justice department had since gone on to work for drug companies and lobbyists to further hamper drug enforcement. That’s just the way it is. He shrugged it off. When you stop fighting against corruption, stop being bothered by criminality in nice suits, and accept that that’s just the way it is, maybe you’ve “stayed too long at the fair.”

Seniority, in terms of experience, can be a virtue. Seniority, when it becomes complacency, is not.

Ken Eisenstein lives in Shelburne Falls.