In a breaking investigative report, the Washington Post is alleging that approximately 42 agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) have been intentionally targeted as new hires to employment by Big Pharma. At least 31 of them have been directly responsible for enforcing certain laws concerning the regulation of opioids, drugs that many public health officials believe are involved in a nationwide epidemic of overdoses.
This begs the question: Is Big Pharma intentionally trying to lure away the very law officials in charge of policing their industry with promises of bigger paychecks? And if pharmaceutical companies have enough money, power, and political influence to hire away 42 DEA agents specializing in opioid regulations, what’s stopping them from hiring an equal number of agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)?
On August 8, 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officially launched the new deeming regulations that affect approximately 99 percent of all e-cig and vaping products currently on the market. And since that date, the FDA has been using undercover law enforcement officers from the ATF and other related agencies to police local and online vape shops.
Big Pharma and the War on Vaping
One of the greatest threats in the War on Vaping is Big Pharma, drug companies that currently hold patents on the more conventional nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) like “the patch” and nicotine gum. As vaping technology has increased in popularity over the past decade, pharmaceutical companies like Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline have steadily lost a greater percentage of the market share regarding NRTs.
In 2009 when President Obama was having difficulty passing what would eventually be nicknamed Obamacare, he turned to Big Pharma for help. Obama needed the pharmaceutical companies to temporarily lower their drug prices for at least eight years (until he was out of office) so that Congress would approve the new bill. Many political insiders believe that Big Pharma only agreed to the slight decrease if the President offered an additional “incentive.”
To offset the financial loss for the lower drug prices, Obama would appoint Mitch Zeller, a former political lobbyist of GlaxoSmithKline, to be the head of a newly formed branch of the FDA called the Center for Tobacco Products. It was Mitch Zeller who initiated, designed, and launched the FDA deeming regulations that threaten to wipe out the entire U.S. vaping industry. This cleared the way for Big Pharma to regain its stronghold on the NRT market and make up some of the financial losses resulting from the passing of Obamacare.
The Trump Administration and ‘conflicts of interest’
Big Pharma’s hiring of 42 former DEA agents is not illegal, but it is raising eyebrows on Capitol Hill. According to the Washington Post, no evidence was found “that officials violated conflict-of-interest regulations.” However, the report also notes that “the number of hires from one key division (of the DEA) shows how an industry can potentially blunt a government agency’s aggressive attempts at enforcement.”
“The DEA diversion officials who have gone to the industry since 2005 include two executive assistants who managed day-to-day operations; the deputy director of the division; the deputy chief of operations; two chiefs of policy; a deputy chief of policy; the chief of investigations; and two associate chief counsels in charge of legal affairs and enforcement actions against pharmaceutical companies.”
When the DEA was asked to respond to the allegations of potential conflicts of interest, a spokesperson Rusty Payne issued the following statement.
“Many who serve in government possess expert knowledge in a wide variety of fields. It is not uncommon for former government officials to use or rely on such expertise when they transfer to the private sector following their public sector service…Employees who leave DEA and other government agencies for private sector work are expected to abide by the applicable laws and ethics rules that govern their private sector activities.”
While President-Elect Donald Trump is on record for his strong desire to reform the FDA, he is also currently under fire for his own potential conflicts of interest regarding his personal business dealings. However, he has also publicly criticized many former high-ranking officials of the Pentagon, stating that they “should never be allowed to go work” for private companies in the defense industry.
Will the Trump Administration look favorably on Big Pharma’s poaching of some 42 invaluable DEA agents? Or will the administration look the other way? Only time will tell.
Article Credit: Matt Rowland