Blackburn bashed over bill undercutting DEA authority over opioid distribution

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, now running for the U.S. Senate, is cited in a 60 Minutes report as a leading proponent of legislation approved by Congress – after heavy lobbying by the drug manufacturing industry — that apparently undercut the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s authority to oversee distribution of products involved in the national opioid abuse crisis.

The report has brought a round of criticism aimed at Blackburn from Democrats and former U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, who is exploring a run against Blackburn for the Republican nomination to U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Bob Corker.

Blackburn was a co-sponsor of the bill, promoted as a means to assure patients get the pain medication they need. The lead House sponsor was Rep. Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, who President Donald Trump has nominated to become the nation’s new drug czar. (Update Note: Marino subsequently withdrew from consideration.)

At one point, Blackburn and Marino wrote the inspector general for the Justice Department, demanding that Joe Rannazzisi be investigated for trying to “intimidate the United States Congress.” Rannazzisi, at the time a DEA official who strongly opposed the bill, wound up resigning after being stripped of supervisory authority and is a major source of information for the joint report by 60 Minutes and the Washington Post.

(Note: The 60 Minutes version HERE; A Washington Post story focused on Marino is HERE; a story focused on Blackburn HERE.)

In response to the report, Blackburn’s office issued this statement, according to The Tennessean:

“If there are any unintended consequences from this bipartisan legislation — which was passed unanimously by the House, Senate and was signed into law by President Obama — they should be addressed immediately.”

Statement from Fincher via the Times Free Press:

“What is so troubling about what we are seeing develop is what Tennesseans want are people who will go to Washington and stand up and fight for them and fight issues like this,” Fincher said.

A West Tennessee farmer who served three terms in Congress, Fincher said “career politics and forgetting who you work for — that’s what’s wrong in Washington. People’s lives are at stake here. This issue, it’s an epidemic that’s all across our state, from Frog Jump to Mountain City. It’s affecting all of us.”

“This is why we’re so interested in running for this seat to make sure that Tennesseans have a voice against special interests and what’s going on in Washington.”

Asked specifically about Blackburn’s role, Fincher said “as far as Tennesseans go, I think the ’60 Minutes’ program was pretty clear what’s happening here. This is not good. This is not good for Tennesseans and this epidemic is facing all of us and breaking our little counties, people are dying.”

Statement from James Mackler, who is running for the Democratic nomination to the Senate seat, via the Washington Post:

“I’m running for U.S. Senate because Tennesseans need a senator that will stand up for them rather than catering to special interests and corporate lobbyists,” Mackler said in an emailed statement Sunday night.

“That Congresswoman Blackburn would champion legislation like this while Tennesseans face an opioid epidemic is all one needs to know about her priorities,” he said.

Statement from Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini:

“At the crucial time when she should have been protecting us, Rep. Blackburn championed a bill that imprisoned even more Tennesseans in a devastating cycle of drug dependence. Families all over Tennessee have been crippled by this crisis. Over 3,000 mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins died in 2015-16 following the passage of the misleading bill she bulldozed through congress for the pharmaceutical industry. As a public servant, Blackburn’s job is to protect Tennesseans from harm. She’s supposed to have our backs. Instead, she has sacrificed the most vulnerable of us for what she could get from powerful special interests.”



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