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Marino Withdraws From Consideration as U.S. Drug Czar

Reports indicate he worked to weaken federal efforts to restrict opioids

U.S. Representative Tom Marino (R-Pennsylvania), President Trump’s nominee to be the country’s drug czar, has withdrawn his name from consideration following a report that he pushed a bill that weakened enforcement of suspicious drug distributors.

The withdrawal, which Trump announced in a tweet, comes just two days after the Washington Post and “60 Minutes” reported that Marino spent years pushing for the industry-backed bill while receiving nearly $100,000 in campaign contributions from industry-affiliated groups. The bill weakened the ability of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to regulate opioid distributors’ agents suspected of misconduct, the Post reported.

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) had called Monday for the nomination to be withdrawn, while Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) introduced legislation to repeal the Marino-backed bill from 2016. At a press conference Monday, Trump said, “we’re going to be looking into Tom” when he was asked if he had confidence in Marino.

While multiple Republican lawmakers also expressed their concern regarding Marino’s nomination to STAT News, the Senate sponsor of the bill Marino supported defended it.

The Post article “asserts that Congress cut out DEA’s legs from underneath it through a sinister conspiracy of deep-pocketed drug companies and their cunning allies in Congress,” Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said Monday on the Senate floor. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Marino’s nomination had already raised some eyebrows in drug-policy circles, in part because of the way in which he described his proposal for a new type of drug treatment center for individuals facing drug possession charges, which he called a “hospital-slash-prison” at a House hearing.

It is the second time Marino has withdrawn from contention to serve as drug czar. In May, he publicly withdrew from consideration before a nominee had been announced, citing a family illness.

Richard Baum, a longtime staffer at the Office of National Drug Control Policy, will continue to serve as the office’s interim director in the absence of a confirmed director. He has overseen the office at a critical time—since March, it has provided staff and administrative support to Governor Chris Christie’s (R-New Jersey) federal commission on the opioid crisis, which first recommended Trump declare the epidemic a national emergency.

The commission’s final report is due in November, and Trump indicated Monday that his administration will formalize the emergency declaration next week. Using the Public Health Service Act to declare an emergency could free up federal resources for cities and states to use and potentially allow for access to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Strategic National Stockpile, which could help localities access pharmaceutical products including overdose reversal drugs.

Source: STAT; October 17, 2017.

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