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Tom Marino Could Be America’s Next Drug Czar—Here’s His Record on Drug Policy

The Pennsylvania congressman has written some bipartisan drug laws while voting extensively against the Affordable Care Act.

By Francie Diep


Tom Marino, a congressman from Pennsylvania, talks with Andrew Wilkow during an episode of The Wilkow Majority on SiriusXM at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 21st, 2016. (Photo: Ben Jackson/Getty Images)

Pennsylvania representative Tom Marino is expected to be the next director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, CBS News reported this week. (Neither Marino’s office nor the White House has confirmed the appointment.) The Office of National Drug Control Policy coordinates America’s anti-drug strategy, including everything from drug stings to state grants for addiction treatment to anti-drug advertisements aimed at teenagers. Among other things, the office and its director, informally known as the “drug czar,” play central roles as America deals with its opioid epidemic.

Marino, a Republican, is serving his third term representing Pennsylvania’s 10th district. He’s a former prosecutor, following the footsteps of the many past drug czars with backgrounds in law enforcement and politics. Only Marino’s immediate predecessor, Barack Obama appointee Michael Botticelli, had worked in public health before leading the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

So what has Marino’s record been on drugs and opioids? Here’s a quick primer.

Marino has written two major drug bills that have become law. One requires the Drug Enforcement Administration to do more to show cause before it shuts down what it believes to be dangerous drug distributors, and to give distributors 30 days to amend unsafe practices. The Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016 was controversial, with critics saying it would defang the DEA. “Under this law, the bad actors simply have to promise to be good, and we won’t take them to court to punish them for what they’ve already done,” Joseph T. Rannazzisi, a retired director of the DEA’s diversion control office, told the New York Times in 2016. In a statement, Marino said the law balanced the need for law enforcement with the concernthat patients who depend on a distributor’s medicines won’t have access when they need it.

Marino’s other bill targeted foreign drugmakers and distributors, making it possible for the United States government to prosecute themif they should have “reasonable cause to believe” their products would be imported illegally into the U.S. Previously, the government could only prosecute such cases if they could prove thatthemakers knew or intended their products to be smuggled into the U.S.

Further drug bills Marino has co-sponsored include one to classify hydrocodone — the active ingredient in name-brand drugs like Vicodin and Lortab — as more potentially dangerous than its designation at the timeunder the DEA’s scheduling system. The next year, the DEA rescheduled hydrocodone from Schedule III to Schedule II. Another bill he co-sponsored would have required doctors prescribing Schedule II and Schedule III drugs to submit information to the attorney general using an online system. That never passed the House of Representatives.

Given their emphasis on activities at the DEA, these bills seem to reflect Marino’s expertise in the law (versus public health, the other important face of drug policy).Still, he was one of 134 co-sponsors of the House version of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which was more public health focused.

In addition, Marino has co-sponsored several bills aimed at dismantling the Affordable Care Act. Although not directly related to drug policy, any changes to Obamacare are expected to have serious effects on those who need treatment for substance use disorders.

Marino’s district includes some of the harder-hit counties by opioid use and overdoses, in one of America’s hardest-hit states.