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October 17, 2017

On Sunday night, 60 Minutes and The Washington Post reported that Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) had worked for two years to push through a bill promoted and apparently written by the pharmaceutical industry that stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration of its biggest tool to fight prescription opioids entering the black market. Marino is President Trump's nominee to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy. On Monday, Trump called Marino "a good man," a "great guy," and "a very early supporter of mine — the great state of Pennsylvania," but said that after Sunday's 60 Minutes, "we're going to look into the report. We're going to take it very seriously."

Trump did not say if he would withdraw Marino's name to be drug czar, but hinted that he might. "I have not spoken to him, but I will speak to him, and I'll make that determination," he told reporters in the Rose Garden. "And if I think it's 1 percent negative to doing what we want to do, I will make a change, yes."

Democrats and a few Republicans backed repealing the law — which passed on voice votes with no objections — and some Democrats urged Trump to dump Marino. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said the drug czar "is supposed to be a watchdog, not a lap dog," and warned that if Trump pursues the nomination, "it will be ugly."

Trump also said he plans to declare the opioid crisis a national emergency next week, calling the epidemic a "massive problem" he wants to get "absolutely right." Democrats and a few Republicans said they were stunned by the report, insisting they had been assured by DEA officials that the bill would not hamper the fight against opioid addiction. You can learn more about the reaction in Washington in the CBS News report below. Peter Weber

October 16, 2017

Last year, Congress passed a law pushed by the pharmaceutical industry that stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of its most potent tool to fight illicit distribution of prescription opioid pain medications to shady clinics and unscrupulous doctors, The Washington Post and CBS's 60 Minutes reported Sunday night. The main sponsors and advocates of the bill were Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), whose districts are both hard-hit by the opioid epidemic. Blackburn is running for Senate, for the seat being vacated by Sen. Bob Corker (R), and Marino is President Trump's pick to be America's drug czar. Former President Barack Obama signed the law in April 2016.

60 Minutes dedicated half an hour to the story, interviewing former DEA officials, investigators, and lawyers, but mostly Joe Rannazzisi, who led the division in charge of regulation and investigation of the pharmaceutical industry and, according to CBS News, "one of the most important whistleblowers ever interviewed by 60 Minutes." He was sidelined and retired after a concerted push by Marino and, he and others suggested, drug lobbyists.

Rannazzisi told 60 Minutes that as opioid-overdose deaths continued to rise sharply, his division turned from prosecuting just pain clinics, pharmacists, and doctors who were illegally selling opioids to targeting the distributors that "allowed millions and millions of drugs to go into bad pharmacies and doctors' offices, that distributed them out to people who had no legitimate need for those drugs." He named names. His interpretation of Marino's bill is shared by Chief DEA Administrative Law Judge John J. Mulrooney II.

You can learn more about the increasing internal and external pressure on Rannazzisi and his team, the revolving door — the Marino bill was apparently written by Linden Barber, a top DEA lawyer-turned-lobbyist — and the role of distributors in the opioid food chain at 60 Minutes. Trump has still not declared the opioid epidemic a national crisis, despite saying he would in August. Peter Weber

October 12, 2017
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Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) have co-authored a letter to President Trump asking where his opioid epidemic declaration is. It has been 63 days since Trump promised he would declare a crisis, but he has not done so yet.

"On Aug. 10, 2017, you declared that '[t]he opioid crisis is an emergency and I'm officially saying right now it is an emergency — we're going to draw it up and we're doing to make it a national emergency. It is a serious problem of the likes of which we've never had,'" wrote Warren and Murkowski. But while the senators "applaud" Trump for addressing addiction, "we are extremely concerned that 63 days after your statement, you have yet to take the necessary steps to declare a national emergency on opioids, nor have you made any proposals to significantly increase funding to combat the epidemic."

An estimated 900,000 Americans overdosed in 2015, with over 30,000 of those overdoses fatal and stemming from opioid drugs. Opioids are the leading cause of unintentional death in the United States. STAT estimated earlier this year that opioids could kill nearly 500,000 Americans in the next decade.

"This kind of delay between pronouncement and formal declaration is not normal," The New York Times writes. "In the past, formal declarations and public pronouncements of a public emergency generally have happened simultaneously." Read more about what it means to declare a public emergency at The New York Times, and read Murkowski and Warren's full letter here. Jeva Lange

September 22, 2017

CVS Pharmacy announced Friday that it will be limiting opioid prescriptions to seven days for certain patients, including those who are new to prescription pain medications, CNN reports. The pharmacy's decision comes as opioid prescriptions have quadrupled since 1999 despite the fact that there has been no significant rise in conditions calling for such medications among American patients.

An estimated 900,000 Americans overdosed in 2015, with over 30,000 of those overdoses fatal and stemming from opioid drugs. Opioids are the leading cause of unintentional death in the United States. STAT estimated earlier this year that opioids could kill nearly 500,000 Americans in the next decade.

CVS pharmacists also plan to teach patients about the risk of addiction that comes with the pain medications, and insist on the importance of keeping the drugs somewhere secure. "With a presence in nearly 10,000 communities across the country, we see firsthand the impact of the alarming and rapidly growing epidemic of opioid addiction and misuse," said CVS Health's president and CEO, Larry J. Merlo.

The pharmacy will roll out the changes beginning Feb. 1, 2018. Jeva Lange

August 25, 2017
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In Ohio, half of all children in the foster care system are there because one or both of their parents are addicted to drugs, and the state doesn't have enough foster parents to take care of them all.

Ohio has been hit hard by the opioid crisis — it has the country's highest rate of fatal heroin overdoses, and that spills over into the child welfare system. There are more than 15,000 kids in Ohio's foster system, NBC News reports, and just 7,200 foster families, and on Thursday, Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) made a plea for help. "I want to issue a call to Ohioans who may be interested in being a foster parent," he said. "I ask them to make that leap and open their home to a kid or kids who could use a stable, loving home."

While officials try to place foster children with relatives, that's not always possible — in several cases, the entire family is dealing with drug addiction. The situation has become so bleak in so many areas — like rural Van Wert County, where 2015 statistics show that 100 percent of kids in the foster system were there because of parental drug abuse — that DeWine said he had to act. He says he is aware that his job doesn't involve the foster care system, but "it was a reaction to what I was hearing out there. It's not like we have all the answers, but we can use the bully pulpit of the attorney general's office to help." Catherine Garcia

June 7, 2017
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Authorities are trying to figure out what is inside a mysterious yellow pill that is so potent it killed four people in central Georgia and sent dozens to the hospital.

Starting Sunday, paramedics were called to the scene of several overdoses, and once the patients arrived at the hospital, most had to undergo aggressive treatment, Dr. Gaylord Lopez, director of the Georgia Poison Center, told USA Today. Chris Hendry, chief medical officer at Navicent Health in Macon, said the pill can cause people to lose consciousness and go into severe respiratory failure.

The drug is new, Hendry said, and they are trying to identify it. Several patients said they thought they were buying Percocet, a potentially addictive opioid used to treat pain. In May, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's crime lab launched an investigation into counterfeit pills, and found that more than 450 contained fentanyl, an opioid that can be 100 times stronger than morphine. Last year, nearly 1,300 people fatally overdosed on drugs in Georgia, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Catherine Garcia