Wallingford Coalition blasts Congress over opioid bill – ‘You need to undo what you did’

Wallingford Coalition blasts Congress over opioid bill – ‘You need to undo what you did’


WALLINGFORD — The Coalition for a Better Wallingford is calling on the state’s congressional delegation to repeal a bill passed by Congress last year that weakened the Drug Enforcement Administration’s ability to stop large drug companies from distributing opioids.

“It’s insidious at best. It just wreaks of the worst that evil could ever bring in,” Coalition president Ken Welch said about the bill, which entered the national spotlight this week following investigative reports by The Washington Post and CBS News. “Essentially everybody in D.C. now has blood on their hands. “

The bill, passed in April 2016, stripped the DEA’s ability to freeze suspicious shipments from drug companies, shipments the agency was concerned were on their way to the wrong hands, The Washington Post reported this week.

The Coalition for a Better for Wallingford formed in 2012 to raise awareness of the opioid epidemic and provide outreach for those affected.

“We’ve done thousands of hours of volunteer work to try and get on top of that thing and this bill basically wipes out all of that effort,” Welch said.

The bill passed through both houses of Congress last year through “unanimous consent,” a parliamentary procedure reserved for bills considered to be noncontroversial. A senator may request unanimous consent on the floor to expedite proceedings. If no senator objects, the bill passes. The bill was later signed by President Barack Obama last year.

According to The Post’s report, “few lawmakers knew the true impact the law would have” except the sponsors and co-sponsors of the bill.

In a statement Friday, Welch told lawmakers, “There’s blood on your hands! STAY AWAY from our Red Ribbon Week events and activities. Until this bill is repealed, you are not welcome.”

In recent years, members of Congress have visited the Coalition for a Better Wallingford to show support and discuss action to combat opioid abuse. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, attended the Coalition’s grand opening of its new storefront on Center Street last August and praised the non-profit’s commitment to fighting the opioid epidemic. U.S. Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Connecticut, visited the Coalition’s offices last October to build support for legislation he pushed at the time for federal funding to address opioid abuse.

“Until that bill is repealed, we don’t want to see any of our congressmen at our events pretending to care,” Welch said. “Actions speak louder than words.”

Before the law was changed, the DEA was able to immediately prevent drugs from reaching the street based on its judgment that the drugs posed an “imminent danger” to a community. Now, the agency must demonstrate that a company’s actions represent “a substantial likelihood of an immediate threat,” a much higher bar that officials say is difficult to meet.

“The DEA’s role was not to prevent people who need pain medications from getting them. The DEA’s role was to prevent excessive amounts of opioid drugs from getting to the marketplace when they don’t need to be there,” Youth and Social Services Director Craig Turner said. “This bill effectively took away DEA’s best tools to make that happen. It’s now a dragged out process and gives the people violating the law more time to get away with it.”

Murphy said Friday “clearly this law made the situation worse, and it needs to be fixed ASAP.” He will take a close look at new legislation to repeal the law.

“People in Connecticut are counting on us to help end this epidemic, and Republicans and Democrats need to start working together to do so,” Murphy said.

Blumenthal said the controversy “should be a catalyst for reviewing and revamping law enforcement tools to make them more effective and provide more resources.”

“Congress must hold hearings into how and why the DEA supported statutory changes that may weaken enforcement of immediate suspension orders, possibly misleading the Congress. Equally important, we must toughen and strengthen both criminal and civil laws to hold accountable any corporations or executives involved in opioid diversion or abuse,” Blumenthal said.

The Post reported that the drug industry worked behind the scenes with lobbyists and key members of Congress to get the law passed, pouring more than a million dollars into their election campaigns.

In the wake of the CBS News and Washington Post investigations, Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., who played a key role in passing the law, resigned this week as President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Third District, said she is cosponsoring legislation that will give the DEA the “tools it needs to ensure massive shipments of opioids do not make it into the black market and correcting the problems identified by the Washington Post and 60 Minutes.”

“The opioid epidemic has ravaged communities in Connecticut and across the nation. Last year, our state suffered over 900 opioid-related deaths. Public officials have a moral duty to immediately address this epidemic,” said DeLauro, whose district includes Wallingford.

The Coalition plans to speak out against the bill as part of its annual Red Ribbon Week, which starts Monday. The Coalition will hold a rally Thursday on the parade grounds in front of Town Hall at 6 p.m.

Welch said the Coalition’s opposition to the bill will “be front and center” during Red Ribbon Week. “We’ll be handing out literature and asking people to support the effort,” he said.

Welch received approval from the town, including Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr., to hang up two large banners that call for lawmakers to “repeal the Marino bill.” On Friday, Welch posted the banners on the gazebo at Johanna Manfreda Fishbein Park in the center of town. The banners will not be posted permanently because town ordinance doesn’t allow them to be hung unattended, Welch said. On Friday, Welch stood next to the banners for about six hours while handing out informational flyers.

The banner included an illustration of bloody handprints and included the words, “118,000 deaths...and...counting,” which referred to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s estimated number of deaths nationally caused by overdose of prescription medication since 2006.

“The issue is so bad, the (signs) can’t be controversial enough,” Welch said.

“They’re almost passive considering the scope of it,” Turner said.

Welch formed The Coalition for a Better for Wallingford after his 20-year-old step daughter, Taylor Short, died from an overdose in 2012.

The Coalition is also working the Connecticut Association of Prevention Professionals to get other communities to join in sending a message to Connecticut’s congressional delegation.

“They better start paying attention and evaluate the system and provide the reforms that are necessary to get ahead of this problem,” Welch said.

Information from wire reports was used for this story.

Twitter: @MatthewZabierek

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