Drug industry hired officials from DEA as the agency tried to curb opioid abuse

In the decade since DEA launched a major enforcement campaign targeting opioid distributors, the pharmaceutical industry has poached more than 30 officials from the agency's Diversion Control Division.

In the decade since DEA launched a major enforcement campaign targeting opioid distributors, the pharmaceutical industry has poached more than 30 officials from the agency's Diversion Control Division. The defections are the byproduct of "a deliberate strategy by the pharmaceutical industry to hire people who are the biggest headaches for them," consultant John Carnevale, formerly of the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy, told Washington Post investigators. The DEA arm is responsible for keeping prescription medications off the black market and is empowered to punish physicians, pharmacies, and drug companies that flout federal law. Industry representatives insist they, too, want to avoid illicit drug activity; and they covet the expertise of government personnel who can help keep them maintain compliance. Ethics experts counter, however, that the shift from policing illegal drug use to working on behalf of companies at the supply end casts doubt on the agency's ability to execute its mission. Even with rules in place to prevent insider knowledge from becoming a conflict of interest, they consider the trend troubling. "It's ... another reminder of how well the revolving door is greased and how the revolving door can negatively impact government operations," said Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight watchdog organization. "It’s not a surprise that DEA isn’t as vigilant as it once was when so many ex-feds are working for the companies that they once investigated."