One of the issues that propelled Donald Trump to the White House was his connection with working-class white voters in states like Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Florida and West Virginia. These are states also hardest hit by America’s opioid epidemic.
In his inaugural address, President Trump made this promise:
But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.
This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.
Beginning in the Obama administration, six years ago, the DEA began investigating British drug manufacturer Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals for its failure to do anything at all to report or prevent 500 million oxycodone pills from flooding Florida between 2008 and 2012. That’s 66 percent of all sales of the addictive painkiller in the state during that period.
A Washington Post investigation exposed the government’s moral failure.
But six years later, after four investigations that spanned five states, the government has taken no legal action against Mallinckrodt. Instead, the company has reached a tentative settlement with federal prosecutors, according to sources familiar with the discussions. Under the proposal, which remains confidential, Mallinckrodt would agree to pay a $35 million fine and admit no wrongdoing.
“Mallinckrodt’s response was that ‘everyone knew what was going on in Florida but they had no duty to report it,’ ” according to an internal summary of the case prepared by federal prosecutors and obtained by The Post.
Here’s where the Trump administration can live up to its promises. As a businessman, Trump’s instinct is to side with Mallinckrodt. Legally, maybe they had no duty to report a flood of addictive drugs since each state has regulatory bodies and medical standards to handle such things. Legally, maybe their first responsibility is to shareholders and the bottom line. But letting them off the hook is certainly a moral failure for the government.
With Trump tweeting about libel laws, leakers, and surveillance, why isn’t he demanding Mallinckrodt executives be locked up? What happened to American carnage?
People are dying; people in states that gave Trump the presidency are dying, and drug companies get off with a slap on the wrist and a cash settlement. Something’s wrong.
This is the same story I covered in West Virginia. Drug manufacturers blame distributors, that skirt the rules and ship based on pharmacy orders, that fill the orders because doctors wrote prescriptions. In court, they all point fingers to the others. Meanwhile, state regulators are slow to act and weak in their response.
In Florida, the DEA’s investigation uncovered the flow of pills to Dr. Barry Schultz’s Sunrise, Florida clinic. Schultz prescribed 1,000 tablets (with a street value of $30,000) to one individual. In an 11-month period. Schultz’s clinic dealt 92,400 oxycodone pills. The doctor is now serving a 25-year sentence for manslaughter and drug trafficking after one of his patients overdosed.
The federal government has the power to clean this mess up from the top to the bottom. To really get serious, someone’s go to go to prison–and not just a lone doctor. It’s really unconscionable that 42 people per day are dying while companies are paying $35 million fines (when the total exposure is well over a billion) without admitting wrongdoing.
The DEA’s clubby relationship with drug manufacturers has to change. Trump owes this to his supporters. He promised to end the American carnage. What the DEA has done is a betrayal of that promise, and a moral failure of enormous proportions.