We asked Shruti Kulkarni, policy advisor with the Center for Lawful Access and Abuse Deterrence, to give a clear response to the Washington Post/60 Minutes story based on a former Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) official’s contention that a bill passed by Congress and signed by President Obama made it impossible for the agency to do its job. Here is her statement:

“Recently, we keep hearing about the DEA being ‘gutted’ because Congress passed a bipartisan bill that clarified vague language in the Controlled Substances Act. However, these statements are misleading and distract from broader efforts to reduce the drug overdose epidemic.

“The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) provides the DEA two avenues by which it can suspend a distributor’s registration. One way is by showing cause, and the other way is to immediately suspend the license if there is an imminent danger to public health or safety. Yet, the CSA never defined what ‘imminent danger’ means, which meant the DEA could essentially suspend distributors’ license without any due process.

“The Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016 clarified that ‘imminent danger to public health and safety’ means that, ‘due to the failure of a distributor to maintain effective controls against diversion … there is substantial likelihood of an immediate threat that death, serious bodily harm, or abuse of a controlled substance will occur in the absence of an immediate suspension of the registration.’ In other words, if the DEA wanted to immediately suspend a distributor’s license without having to go through the normal process of showing cause, then it would have to show that it was doing so because there was a substantial likelihood of an immediate threat.

“Sensationalizing the clarification to the CSA — which simply required the DEA to act according to the rule of law — diverts the focus from broader efforts to reduce the drug overdose epidemic. Now more than ever, legislators, policymakers and law enforcement must avoid such distractions and come together to find sound, effective and compassionate solutions that focus on improving public health and safety.”