Mathew Thomas, a Democrat running against the 11-year Republican incumbent in Florida’s 12th Congressional District, blasted Bilirakis Wednesday for co-sponsoring the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act.
The 2016 bill had a (somewhat unintended) result of severely hampering the DEA’s ability go after opioid distributors supplying corrupt doctors and pharmacists who flood the black market with pain pills.
Bilirakis was one of six co-sponsors for the House version from Rep. Tom Marino, the Pennsylvania Republican who, until recently, was President Donald Trump’s nominee for drug czar.
On Tuesday, Marino backed out of the position, after CBS’ “60 Minutes” and The Washington Post reported that the bill changed a longtime standard required before the DEA could freeze suspicious sales of painkillers, which cuts the flow of opioids into the black market.
Instead of requiring the DEA to first determine shipments pose an “imminent danger” to the community, the agency must now conclude they represent “a substantial likelihood of an immediate threat.”
“I’m appalled, but not shocked,” Thomas said Wednesday. “It has become business as usual for bills like this to roll through as lobbyists team up with members of Congress to ensure these bills succeed.”
Thomas noted that his opponent received $79,000 in campaign contributions from “corporations running this multifaceted campaign to undercut law enforcement.”
While Bilirakis did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Florida Politics, his spokesman did offer an elaborate explanation Tuesday to the Tampa Bay Times’ Alex Leary.
“Congressman Bilirakis hoped that this legislation would bring stakeholders at all levels together to discuss ways they could work together to prevent abuse while allowing really sick people like cancer patients, seniors, Veterans, and others with significant pain to get the relief they need with a legitimate prescription,” spokesman Summer Robertson told the Times.
He continued: “Gus had not been made aware by any current DEA official that the agency feels they do not currently have adequate authority to take action against any party that might be contributing to the proliferation of the opioid epidemic.”
Bilirakis “intends to reaffirm this understanding with the agency, as he is committed to ensuring that law enforcement has the tools it needs to go after bad actors, Robertson said. “Sometimes there are unintended consequences to good legislation.”
“Not sure that’s the case here,” he concluded, “but it would be helpful to hear from DEA if its ability to get bad guys is hampered.”
Thomas responds: “At some point, we have to question the priorities of a Representative that sides with drug corporations over law enforcement in the midst of an opioid epidemic.”
He calls it “inexcusable” that Bilirakis claims he thought the bill would “strengthen cooperation” on the issue of drug abuse.
“His statement reveals he either never read the bill or he read it and voted for it despite the consequences,” Thomas said. “Both scenarios are unacceptable.”
Thomas added: “We cannot accept Representatives championing and co-sponsoring bills like this while we are losing people. We cannot accept Representatives stating ignorance to the effects of the bill when Judge John Mulrooney II, the DEA Chief Administrative Law Judge, warned about the bill’s diminishing DEA authority.
“That’s why I am running to be the Representative we deserve,” he continued. “I am someone who champions the American people and fights for their interest not lay down in the face of opposition or roll over for corporate donations. We have serious issues, people are drying, we need strong leaders empowering not diminishing our power. I am that leader.”
Thomas is a Palm Harbor-based software architect. He entered the CD 12 race in late June, and to date has raised $6,137.
The other Democrat in the race, Robert Tager, has raised $13,423.
Bilirakis, on the other hand, has amassed more than a half-million dollars in his re-election bid for the seat he has held since 2006.