Rep. Marsha Blackburn's office is responding, after being named in an investigation by The Washington Post and 60 Minutes for her role in legislation that "aided" in the explosion of the opioid epidemic.
A spokesman suggests the measure may have produced "unintended consequences" that Congress could revisit.
The law was promoted as a way to ease regulations, supposedly making it easier for patients to access needed medication. But the investigation says the measure, which was introduced by Pennsylvania Rep. Tom Marino and co-sponsored by Blackburn, now makes it "nearly impossible" for the government to halt suspicious shipments of powerful narcotics like oxycodone. One example showed a million doses were sent to a so-called pill mill in a West Virginia county, home to only 25,000 people.
The measure was written by a pharmaceutical industry lobbyist, according to documents obtained by the Washington Post. It eventually drew a total of 23 sponsors or co-sponsors, passed both chambers of Congress unanimously and was signed by then-President Barack Obama.
The CBS News/Washington Post investigation names Blackburn as one of the key people behind the legislation. The program notes that the Brentwood Republican has taken $120,000 in campaign contributions from the drug industry, which spent more than $100 million overall lobbying lawmakers during the passage of her bill. Tennessee has been one of the states hit hardest by the opioid epidemic, with more than 1,600 overdose deaths last year.
"Why are these people sponsoring bills, when people in their backyards are dying from drugs that are coming from the same people that these bills are protecting?" former DEA lawyer Joe Rannazzisi asked 60 Minutes. "I think that the drug industry — the manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors and chain drugstores — have an influence over Congress that has never been seen before. And these people came in with their influence and their money and got a whole statute changed because they didn't like it."
Like other lawmakers involved, Blackburn did not respond to interview requests by the Post or 60 Minutes, but her spokesman did issue a statement after the report was published:
"Congressman Blackburn has a long history of working to combat the epidemic of opioid abuse, which has taken too many precious lives. She believes that Congress should continue its work to address the issue and conduct oversight. If there are unintended consequences from this bipartisan legislation — which was passed unanimously by the House, Senate and was signed into law by President Obama — they should be addressed immediately."