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Sen. Hassan Responds To Opioid Crisis Report

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

As they fight a war against opioids, some officials at the Drug Enforcement Administration say they are facing an unexpected obstacle, their own government. David Schiller, who led an opioid investigation into McKesson Corp., the nation's largest drug company, spoke on CBS's "60 Minutes" last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "60 MINUTES")

DAVID SCHILLER: Everybody kept saying, it's just a prescription drug, it's a pill, it's a liquid - what's the big deal? And I would say, they're killing people. And their motive? This is all for financial gain. That's the problem.

GREENE: The DEA has two complaints that "60 Minutes" and The Washington Post have been reporting on. For one, they say the Trump administration made a deal with McKesson that fined them but let them off too easy. They also say a law passed last year by Congress, written with input from drug companies, ties the DEA's hands and stops them from going after companies that allow opioids onto the black market. Agents have been struggling to stop suspicious shipments of painkillers to pharmacies. U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan is focused on this problem. She's a Democrat from New Hampshire, a state that has been ravaged by opioids. Senator, good morning.

MAGGIE HASSAN: Well, good morning.

GREENE: So what are we learning from these complaints from the DEA?

HASSAN: Well, look, first of all, small towns all across our country are being inundated with millions more opioid pills than there are people. And what we're learning from The Post and "60 Minutes" investigation reporting is that McKesson, which is the largest distributor of opioids in the country, really hasn't been held accountable for its actions. And, in fact, these massive over-shipments of drugs are contributing directly to this epidemic and to the deaths of about a hundred people a day across our country from opioid overdoses.

GREENE: I just want to be really careful. I mean, this is hard to quantify, but you have data suggesting that, I mean, there are more deaths because of what the DEA was unable to go after McKesson for and also because of this law that you've had a problem with.

HASSAN: Well, look, what we know is that there are millions more pills than people. We know that there are pill mills all across the country which are selling opioids. And we know that the industry generally has been really marketing these opioids very aggressively. And all of that contributes to this epidemic. We know a large percentage of people who have substance-use disorder started their disorder by taking prescription drugs.

GREENE: Senator Hassan, let me just say, I mean, this law that you and other critics have have suggested was all but written by pharmaceutical companies and has really tied the DEA's hands. It was supported by some Democrats and signed by President Obama, right? So why didn't lawmakers in your party do more about this earlier if this was such a concern?

HASSAN: Look, I wasn't here at the time that law was passed. What you have heard in the reporting, you heard last night, was incredible frustration from DEA agents on the front lines because the settlement that was reached with McKesson was small enough compared to what their overall profits are. McKesson makes about a hundred-million dollars of profits a week. The overall penalty was a hundred-and-fifty million. You're hearing real frustration by law enforcement because we're not holding these drug companies accountable. And so I've sponsored a bill, co-sponsored a bill, that would repeal the bill that made it much harder for the DEA to do its job and suspend these suspicious shipments immediately.

GREENE: Maggie Hassan is a U.S. senator, a Democrat from the state of New Hampshire. Senator, thanks for your time. We appreciate it.

HASSAN: Thank you very much. Take care now.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In our introduction to this story, we incorrectly say it was the Trump administration that reached a settlement deal with the McKesson Corp. over its alleged overshipments of opioids. In fact, that settlement was announced on Jan. 17, during the last days of the Obama administration.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: December 17, 2017 at 11:00 PM CST
In our introduction to this story, we incorrectly say it was the Trump administration that reached a settlement deal with the McKesson Corp. over its alleged overshipments of opioids. In fact, that settlement was announced on Jan. 17, during the last days of the Obama administration.