There is no denying that Tennessee is being hit hard by the current opioid crisis. 1,451 Tennesseans died from drug overdoses (many involving opioids) in 2015—the same year there were more active opioid prescriptions than people in the state. In 2016, the number of overdose deaths in the state jumped 12 percent as new variants such as fentanyl hit the streets.
Lawmakers are rushing to stem the flow of these highly addictive painkillers into our communities with new legislation, but it’s very possible that some have acted too quickly. One such example is the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act. Signed into law in 2016, sponsors of the bill claim that the intent was to ensure that patients requiring pain medication could get the prescription drugs they needed—but, a year later, the law has yielded an unexpected result. According to whistleblowers, the law not only failed to curb the abuse of prescription painkillers, but actually paved the way for drug companies to more easily distribute opioids across the country while reducing the effectiveness of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) role in freezing suspicious shipments. One of the original bill’s sponsors happens to hail from The Volunteer State, and the current controversy has now landed square in her lap.
While U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn) acknowledged that she might have caused “unintended consequences” through her co-sponsoring of a drug law that is now under fire following an investigation by 60 minutes and the Washington Post, few are satisfied with such a simple dismissal. “The ‘unintended consequences’ of her legislative actions are that Tennesseans died and she should be held accountable,” commented Democratic Senate candidate, James Mackler—who is currently running against Rep. Blackburn for the Senate seat soon to be vacated by Bob Corker. The joint investigation also uncovered $120,000 in contributions to Rep. Blackburn’s campaign from members of the pharmaceutical industry, a group that lobbied hard for the passage of the bill in question.
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