Bilirakis Responds to Misleading Tampa Bay Times Article Regarding Opioid Battle
Addiction is a public health crisis that has ravaged communities and families across the nation and right here at home. This is a complicated issue and crafting responsible public policy requires a delicate balance. I hear daily from constituents with valid prescriptions and legitimate pain who are having difficulty getting their medication since our state has cracked down on pill mills and the availability of prescription drugs. These are mostly seniors and the disabled. While we want to save lives, we also want to make sure that doctors, not politicians, are making treatment decisions about patient care.
I first started seeing a spike in medication access complaints in 2012. A total of 2,548 constituents have contacted me (this does not include all of the calls we have received where the constituent didn’t wish to make a formal inquiry, the constituents who brought it up on a teletown hall meeting or just discussed it with me in person). Approximately, 150 of those were written pleas for assistance. These written cases were forwarded to the Drug Enforcement Agency for help, however, the response I received deflected responsibility and shifted the blame to local pharmacies. I met with the leadership of major pharmacies and they explained that federal agencies had “cracked down and have instituted new limits for how many pills pharmacies and distributors can fill.” Basically, everyone blamed each other and no one accepted responsibility for fixing the problem. On January 6, 2015, I questioned the DEA about the access to medication issue. The DEA official, Director of Diversion Control Joe Ranazzissi, confirmed that lack of access has been a concern. In February of 2015, I co-sponsored the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, which contained language that specifically required many federal agencies to work together to solve the access issue while preventing abuse. In May of 2015, this column ran in a local news outlet. The authors, Steve Anderson President/CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and Paul Gileno, President of the U.S. Pain Foundation explain their perspective of the access issue and how federal agencies needed to do exactly what was required by the legislation I co-sponsored. The bill was approved by the DEA, passed unanimously in both the House and Senate and was signed into law by President Obama.
Late last year, the same DEA employee, Joe Ranazzissi, whom I questioned previously claimed that the bill I co-sponsored made it difficult for the DEA to prosecute pharmaceutical companies who were making the opioid crisis worse. Mr. Ranazzissi was no longer with the DEA at the time he made this allegation. I immediately questioned the DEA as to whether or not his claims were true. As you can see from this clip , the DEA indicated that the bill in question did not hamper its ability to prosecute pharmaceutical companies who were doing bad things. Additionally, the Acting DEA Chairman Robert Patterson said right after the interview that the law did not keep the DEA from prosecuting those within the industry who were breaking the law or exacerbating the crisis. The agency increased enforcement through other tools at its disposal. Specifically, he says the notion that the law caused them to slow down prosecution, is not factually accurate. During the October 2017 hearing, I publicly told the DEA that I would work with the agency and would give it whatever tools it needed to do its job.
On February 25, 2018, the DEA asked for an additional tool related to the Immediate Suspension Order. I have met with DEA staff multiple times over the last six months to finalize language to give them that tool and filed legislation to do so in early September. The most recent article in the Tampa Bay Times alluded to increased campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry. Who does/doesn't contribute to my campaign has absolutely nothing to do with my legislative decisions. As is easily verifiable, all sectors of the health care industry regularly make donations to members of both parties who serve on the Healthcare Subcommittee, and those donations typically increase as a member gains more seniority on the Subcommittee. Also of even greater significance, as Sheriff Gualtieri pointed out in last week's Tampa Bay Times article, our local opioid crisis is primarily fueled non-prescription drug opioids. There has been a spike in heroin overdoses, for example.
Addiction is the issue we must solve, which is why I have been focused on trying to divert more resources to give access to treatment. I will continue to fight on behalf of all my constituents to prevent abuse and ensure patients have access to the medication they need, without respect to any political influences.