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Washington Post Highlights Senator Hassan’s Efforts to Ensure DEA Has Tools It Needs to Help Combat Opioid Crisis

A new law supported by opioid distributors and manufacturers is making it increasingly difficult to hold companies accountable when they run afoul of the nation’s drug laws, according to recently retired Drug Enforcement Administration investigators on the front lines of the war against opioids.

They join a chorus of voices calling for changes to the law that includes Attorney General Jeff Sessions, 44 state attorneys general and the head of the DEA office that regulates pharmaceuticals.

The field investigators said the new law is hurting efforts to halt suspicious shipments of prescription pain pills and slowing the agency’s investigative efforts. Morale within the ranks of the DEA’s field divisions has plummeted, they said in interviews with The Washington Post and “60 Minutes” for a joint investigation that will be published and broadcast Sunday.

“The law makes it much harder for us to do our jobs,” said James Rafalski, a DEA investigator who retired in June after a 39-year career in law enforcement, the last 13 years with the agency.

…The legislation was the subject of a joint investigation by The Post and “60 Minutes” in October. On Sunday, a follow-up investigation will examine the obstacles investigators encountered during the biggest case the DEA has ever pursued against a drug distributor.

…Two days after The Post/“60 Minutes” report, Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) confronted Elizabeth Gallenagh, general counsel and senior vice president for government affairs at the Healthcare Distribution Alliance. The alliance has said the law does not undermine the DEA’s enforcement powers.

Hassan questioned Gallenagh about a law review article written by Chief DEA Administrative Law Judge John J. Mulrooney II that was sharply critical of the Marino-Hatch bill.

“The point is that your organization — which lobbied aggressively for this law last year — claimed that it does not decrease the DEA’s enforcement against distributors,” she told Gallenagh during an Oct. 17 congressional hearing. “The DEA chief administrative law judge says you’re wrong — that the law completely eliminates the DEA’s ability to take certain enforcement actions. It’s his job to interpret the law. So is the judge wrong? Or was your organization’s statement misleading?”

“I believe that the judge’s statement was misleading,” Gallenagh said. “And I stand behind our organization’s statement.”

Hassan said in a recent interview that she was stunned to hear one of the nation’s most influential drug industry groups attack the integrity of the DEA’s chief judge.

“She accused the administrative law judge of misleading the public, of misleading us. And I thought that was astounding,” Hassan said. “What I am looking for from the pharmaceutical industry is a true recognition that their product has fueled an addiction that is killing people and that they have an actual responsibility to do something about it. And I’m not seeing it.”