PoliticsMidterm Elections


What's True About Marsha Blackburn's Record With Drug Distributors?

Democrat Phil Bredesen says his Republican opponent worked at the behest of drug companies to weaken DEA regulation of drug distributors. Did she?
Posted at 6:33 PM, Sep 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-28 18:33:17-04

Tennessee is home to another key Senate race this midterm season. Democratic candidate and former Governor Phil Bredesen is trying to best Rep. Marsha Blackburn. They're vying for outgoing Senator Bob Corker's seat. The race is super close.

A key issue in Tennessee is the opioid crisis. Recently, Bredesen claimed Blackburn backed a law that didn't help the problem. The law weakened DEA enforcement on doctors and companies that peddled narcotics to the black market. Bredesen said Blackburn co-sponsored that law at the behest of the pharmaceutical industry.

Let's fact check that.

It is true that in 2014, and again in 2016, Blackburn supported bills that would make it harder for the DEA to question or revoke distribution licenses from companies making suspicious shipments.

Blackburn argued the DEA went overboard with its suspensions, and said she worried patients wouldn't get pain medications they needed. She backed bills to raise the burden of proof for the DEA before it could suspend distribution licenses.

The bill she sponsored in 2014 died in the Senate. A revised version passed both chambers in 2016 and became law. 

It is also true that major drug distribution companies spent almost $1.3 million lobbying for the changes Blackburn proposed. It's also true that drug distribution companies' campaign donations to Blackburn rose while she was fighting for the changes. 

It was late last year when The Washington Post and 60 Minutes worked together on a report detailing back-room negotiations on the 2016 bill. It also highlighted hundreds of millions in lobbying expenses from drug distributors aimed at making the changes reality.

After that report, the Justice Department recommended the law be rolled back. In late August, Blackburn submitted a bill to undo the very changes for which she'd originally advocated.

What's uncertain is whether Blackburn advocated for those changes at the "behest" of the drug distribution companies, as Bredesen suggests. It's not clear what motivated Blackburn's advocacy.