Manchin: DEA needs strong leader

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., suggested the nation’s next Drug Enforcement Agency “drug czar” should have a medical background, know someone who has been addicted and be from outside the Washington, D.C., beltway, during a teleconference with reporters Tuesday afternoon.

Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., removed his name Tuesday from consideration for the position of DEA czar, following media reports that he had orchestrated a bill that weakened the DEA authority over drugmakers.

President Donald Trump had nominated Marino as the possible DEA head.

“I think that was the right thing for him to do, and I thank the president for accepting it, quickly,” Manchin said. “I look forward to working with the president and finding a person who has the passion and the experience level to fight this epidemic.”

According to Manchin, the ideal drug czar candidate would work in the medical field and have had someone in their family — a loved one or a child — who has “endured this epidemic that has taken so many bright lives, someone who has the passion and cannot be swayed by all the influence or money or anything else that has swayed people before from doing their job here.”

“They’re talking about a ‘drug czar,'” Manchin said. “I want a (drug) general. I want somebody who is going to fight the war, and who is going to lead this fight and win this fight.”

Manchin also hopes the drug czar candidate comes from outside the Washington, D.C., political beltway.

“I hope it’s not a politician,” Manchin said. “Right now, I think it would be tainted to have a politician of any weight, shape or form, knowing how the (Washington, D.C.) swamp works. We not only have a swamp — we have quicksand up here too.”

Manchin said he will send Trump a list of candidate names for him to consider.

“I will make some suggestions of people who fit that background,” Manchin said.

During the teleconference, Manchin thanked the Washington Post and CBS’ news magazine “60 Minutes” for their joint reporting that Marino was the architect behind legislation that the news organizations say handcuffs the DEA in its fight against opioid distributors.

Manchin also touched on the question of how legislation got past both houses of Congress to become law.

“People are saying, ‘How did it pass?’ Everybody didn’t do anything, didn’t say anything,” Manchin said.

Manchin said the legislation sailed through both the judiciary and health committees without setting off alarms because federal agencies, including the DEA, had not signaled a warning flag to legislators.

“The committees basically work with the (federal) agencies to find out if they have concerns with the piece of legislation, and is something that they should move forward with,” Manchin said. “The agency’s attorneys signed off and said, ‘No, this piece of legislation has been drafted by Mr. Marino and Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, in the Senate; this piece of legislation should have no effect whatsoever and will not impede us from doing our job.'”

Manchin called the legislation, entitled Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, “a scam.”

According to Manchin, the bill’s author was Linden Barber, the former associate chief counsel for the DEA’s office of diversion control, who left the DEA agency in 2011. He said Barber recently was hired as senior vice president in charge of regulatory affairs for Cardinal Health, one of the three major drug distributors in the country.

“The person who wrote the legislation used to work for the DEA,” Manchin said. “So you have one of the chief people who knew the DEA inside and out.”

Manchin said the bill was designed to facilitate opioid pill distribution by distributors.

“I believe this has been a business plan from day one,” Manchin said. “You can’t send 9 million pills to Kermit, West Virginia, when you only have 400 people living in the community, or send 11 million pills to Mingo County when you only have 25,000 people, and not raise a red flag. This is happening all over the country — and West Virginia has been hit harder than anyone else.”

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