Good morning, friends. A lot’s going on in our fair state this week! John McCain visited Philly last night and slammed President Trump’s nationalistic politics, and a Pennsylvania congressman and longtime Trump supporter is in hot water over his sponsorship of a controversial drug policy law.
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Today, let’s talk about Tom Marino.
What’s at stake
Pennsylvania Rep. Tom Marino’s dreams of a cabinet position, for starters. But let’s back up a bit. The Washington Post and 60 Minutes published an explosive report this week about a little-noticed law, passed last year, that severely limits the Drug Enforcement Administration’s ability to go after the drug manufacturers that supply pill mills — the driving force behind the opioid epidemic.
The bill — written by Marino, who happened to get $92,500 in campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry over the last four years — was marketed as a way to ensure pain patients to get their medications without interruption. But it makes it virtually impossible for the DEA to suspend large, suspicious shipments of opioid medications to pharmacies and doctor’s offices. And as deaths from pill and heroin overdoses skyrocket, the DEA has issued fewer and fewer suspension orders against drug companies.
The local angle
I visited Marino’s Northeastern Pennsylvania district this summer on a reporting trip — a week after the area was slammed with 51 overdoses in 48 hours after someone sold a bad batch of heroin. In little Wellsboro, Pa. — the Tioga County seat, smack in the middle of Marino’s district — 12 of the 16 beds at the local emergency room were filled with overdose victims.
“We had people coming back 12 hours later, having taken the same dose,” Toni Burtch, an RN there, told me. She talked about the frustration and sadness she felt during the 17-hour shift she worked that weekend, about watching people in her hometown follow the now-familiar path of opioid addiction: pills, then heroin — and, if they’re lucky, recovery instead of an overdose in that tiny ER.
Erick Coolidge, a Tioga County county commissioner and a former hospital administrator, told me Monday that his county is working hard to get people addicted to heroin into treatment — but he wishes the drug companies whose pills fueled the epidemic would pony up some money for it.
He doesn’t know too much about the Marino bill — which puts him in the same category as most of the country and, apparently, President Obama, who signed the bill into law with barely a whisper. But, if it’s as harmful as the Post’s report suggests, Coolidge said, “it’s unfortunate that that law was presented by the candidate that’s being considered for the drug czar.”
Well: Now he’s not.
Until this morning, Marino was set to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy — until President Trump announced on Twitter that the “fine man and great Congressman” had withdrawn his name from consideration for the post. (By the by, he’s not the only local congressman behind the bill: Rep. Ryan Costello, of Chester County, was also a co-sponsor.)
There are other local efforts to go after the pharmaceutical industry for its role in the opioid crisis: last month, Delaware County became the first county in the state to sue drug manufacturers for the millions the county has spent on treatment for its residents. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.) is already pushing to repeal the Marino bill.
But last year, the Marino bill made it through Congress and onto Obama’s desk without much of a fight at all. The Post report is a long read, and a great one — it’s a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the machinations of the pharmaceutical lobby and the agency tasked with enforcing our drug policy during a full-blown drug epidemic. But, most importantly, it’s a chilling example of what can happen when people aren’t paying attention.
What they’re saying
“We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil.” — Sen. John McCain, accepting the Liberty Medal in Philly last night, blasting the politics of “half-baked, spurious nationalism” that swept President Trump into office.
“If you look at President Obama and other Presidents, most of them didn’t make calls, a lot of them didn’t make calls.” — President Trump in a free-wheeling press conference (are they ever anything but?), falsely claiming that past presidents didn’t call the family members of troops killed in action.
“that’s a f—— lie. to say president obama (or past presidents) didn’t call the family members of soldiers KIA – he’s a deranged animal.” — Alyssa Mastromonaco, a former Obama aide, calling out Trump on Twitter.
In other news…
- President Trump, as part of an ongoing effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act after several failed repeals, has ended cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers. In Pennsylvania, that means premiums on the ACA exchange will jump by more than 30 percent — instead of the 7.6 percent projected increase. And Rob Field, a Drexel health policy professor, told me last week that the executive order Trump signed dismantling some Obamacare provisions will likely mean some consumers and companies will switch to cheaper, skimpier healthcare coverage. “To siphon people away from the exchanges into bare-bones policies that have minimal coverage — it’s not a replacement. It’s not an improvement. It’s just letting people lose their health coverage,” he said.
- President Trump spoke about his tax plan in Harrisburg last week and your correspondent was there.
- The Department of Justice says Philly’s sanctuary city policies violate federal law, despite the city’s arguments to the contrary. The city has until next week to convince them it isn’t breaking the law — it’s the closest Philly has come to losing federal funding over its sanctuary city status.
What I’m reading
- A long, thoughtful profile of Vice President Pence in the New Yorker, which digs up the veep’s little-studied past in Indiana and reports that President Trump once joked — joked! — that Pence wanted to hang gay people.
- The New York Times takes us into Rex Tillerson’s State Department, where the biggest diplomatic challenge is often dealing with Trump.
- The bloggers at Gothamist, bless them, have been assiduously following the case of the Philadelphia accountant who wore a MAGA hat into a New York bar, allegedly got kicked out, and is now suing the place. Now he’s claiming that he was discriminated against because wearing the hat is part of his “spiritual beliefs.”
A non-political palate cleanser
My colleague Jason Nark writes poignantly about veterans with PTSD finding solace in the Appalachian Mountains.