DEA investigators say officials purposely hampered attempts to slow rise of opioids, doing the bidding of drug manufacturers

Drug ­Enforcement Administration investigators say attempts to staunch the rise of opioids were derailed by interference from higher ups, Lenny Bernstein and Scott Higham report for The Washington Post. Ten years ago, DEA “began to target wholesale companies that distributed hundreds of millions of highly addictive pills to the corrupt pharmacies and pill mills that illegally sold the drugs for street use,” but the industry fought back, and administrators caved to industry pressure, the Post reports. (Post graphic: Opioid cases pursued by DEA)

“Former DEA and Justice Department officials hired by drug companies began pressing for a softer approach,” Bernstein and Higham write. “In early 2012, the deputy attorney general summoned the DEA’s diversion chief to an unusual meeting over a case against two major drug companies.” Joseph T. Rannazzisi, who ran the diversion office for a decade before he was removed from his position and retired in 2015, told the Post, “That meeting was to chastise me for going after industry, and that’s all that meeting was about.”

Rannazzisi vowed to continue the campaign, Bernstein and Higham write. “But soon officials at DEA headquarters began delaying and blocking enforcement actions, and the number of cases plummeted, according to on-the-record interviews with five former agency supervisors and internal records obtained by The Post.”

The number of DEA civil-case filings against distributors, manufacturers, pharmacies and doctors dropped from 131 in fiscal year 2011 to 40 in fiscal year 2014, Bernstein and Higham write. During the same time period, the immediate suspension orders, the DEA’s strongest weapon of enforcement, dropped from 65 to nine. “The slowdown began in 2013 after DEA lawyers started requiring a higher standard of proof before cases could move forward.”

“Several DEA officials on the front lines of the opioid war said they could not persuade headquarters to approve their cases at the peak of the epidemic,” Bernstein and Higham write. “They said they confronted Clifford Lee Reeves II, a lawyer in charge of approving their cases, to no avail.” Jim Geldhof, who was the diversion program manager in the Detroit field office when Reeves took over at DEA headquarters in 2012, told the Post, “It was like he was on their side, not ours. I don’t know what his motive was, but we had people dying. We were in the throes of a major pill epidemic.” (Read more)

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