Thursday, November 23, 2017
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  • From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Rubio, Bilirakis co-sponsored now-controversial drug bill

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Millions of TV viewers on Sunday learned of a successful attempt by the drug industry to weaken federal regulations just as the opioid crisis was reaching its peak – and two Florida Republicans played a supporting role.

Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor and Sen. Marco Rubio of Miami were among a handful of co-sponsors of the legislation, which sailed through Congress last year and was signed into law by President Barack Obama.

“The law was 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,” the Washington Post reported in conjunction with 60 Minutes.

UPDATE: Tuesday. Rep. Tom Marino, the lead House sponsor, has withdrawn from consideration as President Trump’s drug czar.

Bilirakis was one of six co-sponsors for the House version by Rep. Tom Marino, a Pennsylvania Republican who is President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the country’s drug czar.

Rubio was one of four co-sponsors for the Senate version, which is the one signed into law and was overseen by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. The Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act passed by unanimous consent.

We asked Bilirakis and Rubio for the reasons behind their support for the legislation and as of Monday evening, only Bilirakis had responded.

“Congressman Bilirakis hoped that this legislation would bring stakeholders at all levels together to discuss ways they could work together to prevent abuse while allowing really sick people like cancer patients, seniors, Veterans, and others with significant pain to get the relief they need with a legitimate prescription,” spokeswoman Summer Robertson wrote in an email.

“Gus had not been made aware by any current DEA official that the agency feels they do not currently have adequate authority to take action against any party that might be contributing to the proliferation of the opioid epidemic …

“Gus intends to reaffirm this understanding with the agency, as he is committed to ensuring that law enforcement has the tools it needs to go after bad actors,” she wrote. “Sometimes there are unintended consequences to good legislation. Not sure that’s the case here, but it would be helpful to hear from DEA if its ability to get bad guys is hampered.”

Robertson noted that “the bill was bipartisan and approved unanimously in both the House and Senate, and signed into law by President Obama.” She also noted Bilirakis’ support of other measures to combat opioid abuse.

Rubio, too, has called attention to the issue this year.

His office did not respond to questions about sponsorship of the bill.

The drug industry is a major political donor and almost all lawmakers get some money. Rubio in the 2016 election cycle received $289,000 from the pharmaceutical/health products industry, according to Opensecrets.org, putting him near the top of all senators in a year he also ran for president.

Bilirakis got $79,000, which puts him in the upper reaches of House recipients, and he was above Marino, who got $72,000.

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