WALLINGFORD - The Town Council passed a resolution Tuesday to formally join the Coalition for a Better Wallingford in opposing a law passed by Congress last year that weakened the Drug Enforcement Administration’s ability to stop large drug companies from distributing opioids.
The resolution, passed 7-1, stated the council’s “support of Congressional efforts to repeal” the bill, which was passed last spring and entered the national spotlight earlier this month following investigative reports by The Washington Post and CBS News.
“The Wallingford Town Council stands firmly in support of those taking on the opioid crisis, seeking solutions to combat opioid addiction and related deaths. The Council is furthermore in support of Congressional efforts to repeal the ‘Marino Bill,’” the resolution stated.
The bill, commonly referred to as the “Marino Bill” because Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., reportedly played a key role in its passage, 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 earlier this month.
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 Coalition, which formed in 2012 to raise awareness about the opioid epidemic and provide outreach, has advocated for Congress to repeal the bill.
"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," said Ken Welch, a resident who founded the nonprofit in 2012 after his 20-year-old step daughter, Taylor Short, died from an overdose. “I’ve never been so mad in my entire life.
Welch approached the council this week about passing the resolution in honor of national Red Ribbon Week, held annually in October to raise awareness about drug prevention.
Welch said he does not want any members of Connecticut's congressional delegation to attend the Coalition’s Red Ribbon Week ceremonies.
The council’s resolution stated, “Any Congressional representative, planning to attend any of the Red Ribbon Week ceremonies in Wallingford should do so with the intention of explaining his or her plans to repeal the ‘Marino Bill,’ thereby restoring the DEA power to enforce the Controlled Substance Act.”
Republican Council Chairman Vincent Cervoni said it is unusual for the council to voluntarily pass a resolution unless it is a required element of receiving a grant, for instance.
Welch said the resolution is another indication of how far the town government has come to embrace the Coalition’s efforts to combat opioid addiction. When the Coalition first approached the Council for support after forming in 2012, Welch said the prevailing attitude of the council was, “What do you want us to do?”
“This is a far cry from conversation we were having five years ago,” Welch said.
“It’s a statement in support of the Coalition,” Cervoni said. “It’s a statement in support of Red Ribbon Week. It’s a statement in support of families dealing with addiction.”
In talking about the resolution, Cervoni said “I just hope that this is this little piece is in some way effective in combating the opioid epidemic.”
Democratic Councilor Jason Zandri said he wholly supported the resolution and urged the public to get involved with the Coalition’s efforts.
“If it only saves one person, that’s a victory,” Zandri said.
Republican Councilor Craig Fishbein, also a state representative, was the only councilor to vote against the resolution. Fishbein said while he “wholeheartedly supports”“ efforts to combat opioid addiction, he objected to the resolution specifically referring to the congressional bill passed as the “Marino Bill.” Fishbein pointed out that the bill ultimately passed by Congress was by introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, not Marino.
In the wake of The Post and CBS News reports, Marino resigned as President Donald J. Trump’s nominee to head the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
“It appears that some people have, 553 days after this thing passed, put a target on Tom Marino merely because he was being put up by President Trump for a position. And I really don’t want to get swept into that,” Fishbein said. “I’m concerned that the good intentions are more surrounded by politics.”
Fishbein went onto say, “I just don’t want to get wrapped up in something that’s not appropriate. So Mr. Welch, I certainly embrace the intention, but I can’t support the resolution as it presently exists.”
Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. explained that while the final version wasn’t introduced by Marino, the bill passed was a slightly different version of Marino’s bill.
“That investigative piece (by The Washington Post) was pretty clear about main movers as far as what went through the House,” Dickinson said. “It was approved by the House, it then went to the Senate. A slightly different version was approved by the Senate, and then (the House and Senate) ended up approving the final version - all by consent. The President signed also without much fanfare.”
The Washington Post reported stated, “The chief advocate of the law that hobbled the DEA was Rep. Tom Marino...Marino spent years trying to move the law through Congress. It passed after Sen. Orrin G. Hatch negotiated a final version with the DEA.”
Unaffiliated Councilor John Sullivan criticized Fishbein immediately following his comments by saying, “I thought we were going to leave politics out of this. Obviously not.”