Big pharma hired dozens of ex-DEA agents over past 10 years

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Pharmaceutical companies that produce or distribute highly addictive pain medications have hired dozens of Drug Enforcement Administration officials over the past decade, a Washington Post investigation reveals.

The hires began following the launch of an aggressive campaign by the DEA to stem the growing opioid abuse epidemic that has resulted in thousands of overdoses and deaths each year. The DEA began imposing tougher regulations in 2005 on pharmaceutical companies that were distributing excessive amounts of painkillers to pain management clinics and pharmacies, according to the report.

Since then, drugmakers and law firms that represent them have employed at least 42 officials from the DEA, including 31 who were part of the division of the agency responsible for regulating the industry, the investigation found.

"The number of employees recruited from that division points to a deliberate strategy by the pharmaceutical industry to hire people who are the biggest headaches for them," John Carnevale, former director of planning for the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy, who now runs a consulting firm, told The Washington Post.  "These people understand how DEA operates, the culture around diversion and DEA's goals, and they can advise their clients how to stay within the guidelines."

It is not unusual for corporations to hire government employees, as their expertise and inside knowledge can lend value and support to the organization in terms of compliance with regulations. However, there are regulations in place to slow the "revolving door" in Washington, as well as to prevent potential conflicts of interest, according to The Washington Post.

Although The Washington Post did not discover evidence that the former DEA officials violated conflict of interest regulations, the number of hires from the agency illustrates how an industry can potentially interfere with a government agency's enforcement efforts.

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