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Government Opioid Response: Darknet, The Post Office, & China

by Countable | 1.31.18

What’s the story?

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night President Trump briefly addressed the opioid crisis, pledging to "get tougher" on drug dealers and pushers in order to combat the “scourge” that currently claims an average of 7 Americans every hour.

But speeches are one thing. Actions are another. What are the latest updates on the administration’s efforts to combat the opioid crisis?

Per the Washington Post, on Tuesday Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a 45-day "surge" of “Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents and investigators…focus[ing] on pharmacies and prescribers who are dispensing unusual or disproportionate amounts of opioid drugs.”

The House Energy and Commerce Committee discovered in their investigation of the opioid industry that two drug distribution companies had shipped more than 20 million pain pills to two pharmacies four blocks apart in Williamson, W.Va., a town with a population of 2,900. The DEA hopes to uncover more of these abuses of the system.

On Monday the Post also reports that Sessions announced the formation of a new team at the FBI dubbed J-CODE (Joint Criminal Opioid Darknet Enforcement), which aims to disrupt the growing number of illicit opioid sales online.

Countable reported Tuesday on coordinated efforts between U.S. and Chinese officials to address the use of the U.S. Postal Service to ship illicit synthetic opioids direct to users in the U.S. from China, following a congressional investigation into the issue.

And early Wednesday, Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, head of the Centers for Disease Control, resigned from her post after Politico broke a story that she had invested money in tobacco company stocks after she took over heading the agency. Fitzgerald had also recused herself from testifying to Congress on electronic health records that track the use of opioids, due to her investment in companies associated with the data tracking.

Among other efforts, the CDC distributes tens of millions in grants to local authorities to combat the opioid epidemic. It is unlikely Fitzgerald’s departure will affect the distribution of funds, but from the perspective of the opioid crisis it is a difficult time to have the federal government’s public health agency without a leader.

A permanent replacement for Fitzgerald will need to be confirmed. The CDC has announced Dr. Anne Schuchat as acting director.

The Hill reported Wednesday that a group of Senate Democrats have requested that the Government Accountability Office work to document all of the efforts undertaken by the administration since the president declared the crisis a public health emergency out of concern about the inadequacies of the campaign overall.

What do you think?

Are you satisfied with the federal government’s response to the opioid epidemic? What are your ideas for what needs to be done? What are we missing?

Tell us in the comments what you think, then use the Take Action button to tell your reps!

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: AARP.org)

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