President Donald Trump says the Pennsylvania congressman he chose to be the country's czar at the Office of National Drug Control Policy is withdrawing from consideration for the job.
Trump's announcement Tuesday on Twitter follows reports by the Washington Post and 60 Minutes that Republican Rep. Tom Marino played a key role in passing a bill that weakened the federal government's authority to stop companies from distributing opioids.
Rep.Tom Marino has informed me that he is withdrawing his name from consideration as drug czar. Tom is a fine man and a great Congressman!— @realDonaldTrump
Marino, in his fourth term representing northeastern Pennsylvania, played a key role in the law along with a handful of other Republicans.
The Post reported Sunday that Marino and other members of Congress, along with the major drug distributors in the U.S., prevailed upon the DEA and the Justice Department to agree to an industry-friendly law that undermined efforts to restrict the flow of pain pills that have led to tens of thousands of deaths.
The Post called the 2016 law, signed by U.S. President Barack Obama, "the crowning achievement of a multifaceted campaign by the drug industry to weaken aggressive DEA enforcement efforts against drug distribution companies that were supplying corrupt doctors and pharmacists who peddled narcotics to the black market."
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The industry worked behind the scenes with lobbyists and key members of Congress, including Marino, pouring more than a million dollars into their election campaigns, the newspaper reported.
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, whose home state of West Virginia has been among the hardest-hit by the opioid epidemic, welcomed the news.
"We need a drug czar who has seen these devastating effects and who is passionate about ending this opioid epidemic," Manchin said Tuesday.
Manchin had scolded the Obama administration for failing to "sound the alarm on how harmful that bill would be for our efforts to effectively fight the opioid epidemic."
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was asked about the reports on Tuesday at a news conference in Washington.
"I'm very concerned about it," Rosenstein said. "We're going to review it. I'm not prepared to answer that question right now but we are going to look into those issues."
Emergency declaration still yet to be made
Trump told reporters at a Rose Garden news conference on Monday that the White House would look at the reports by The Washington Post and CBS News "very closely."
Trump called Marino "a good man," but said, somewhat ominously, "We're going to be looking into Tom."
An initial report from the commission in July noted that the approximately 142 deaths each day from drug overdoses mean the death toll is "equal to Sept. 11 every three weeks."
More than 64,000 died in 2016 in the U.S., according to provisional results released last month by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It would represent a 22 per cent increase from the year before, and a figure more than three times the number of deaths from homicide across the U.S. in 2016.
The overdose increases have been spurred by increases in deaths related to the use of heroin and fentanyl.
A White House commission convened by Trump and led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has called on the president to declare a national emergency to help deal with the growing opioid crisis.
Trump has said as early as August that he would do so, but the declaration has yet to take place.