The DEA’s Credibility Has Faded Away

Principal Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency Louis Milione, has stepped down after a reporter revealed he had worked as a consultant for pharmaceutical companies linked to the opiate overdose crisis, the biggest public health problem in the U.S. According to reports, Milione turned to private consulting in 2017 after a 21-year career with the DEA. During this period, he testified for a large distributor that was accused of failing to report thousands of orders for highly addictive narcotics. The agency declined to take any action against the pharmaceutical company involved. Milione also charged $600 an hour to advise Purdue Pharma in several lawsuits that identified it as one of the companies that got rich through the uncontrolled sale of these substances, prior to the epidemic of Fentanyl drug use.

Purdue is not just any actor in the pharmaceutical sector. It is widely regarded as responsible for setting the current crisis in motion when it started marketing its star product, OxyContin, as though it were a harmless medication. Last year, Purdue agreed to pay $6 billion and offer a public apology “for the pain it has caused.” The Sacklers, the family that owns Purdue, supported buildings and scholarships named for them for decades. Institutions withdrew this recognition after reports disclosed that continued to profit from OxyContin in spite of its highly addictive effect and the well-documented fact that it caused dependence for thousands of patients.

Milione’s questionable conduct in going back and forth through the “revolving door” conflicting interests is not an isolated occurrence, but rather an example of the systematic breakdown prevailing in the DEA. Last April, it was reported that a federal auditor was investigating DEA Administrator Anne Milgram for awarding million-dollar no-bid contracts to people with whom she had business relationships in the past. According to the reports, Milgram authorized the payment of exorbitant sums for work customarily performed by the 9,000 employees of the agency itself. The former DEA regional director for Mexico, Nicholas Palmeri, was abruptly transferred to the main office in Washington in May 2021 and resigned in March 2022. The DEA initially tried to cover up the matter, but news got out that Palmeri had socialized and even vacationed with lawyers from Miami who were defending Latin American drug traffickers. In addition, he had engaged in administrative irregularities by charging all kinds of personal expenses to the agency. Only two months after Palmeri left the agency, an agent and a supervisor were charged with leaking confidential information to lawyers in Miami in exchange for $70,000.

These and other cases that would be impossible to summarize in the space available here reveal the hypocrisy of Washington’s anti-drug policy. Washington is only now waking up to the Fentanyl problem and its use as a tool of pressure against Mexico and China, but for decades it looked the other way while the big drug companies created the disaster. In the first two decades of this century, half a million people died in the U.S. from opioid overdoses, a higher number than those who died in traffic accidents or by gun violence. A significant share of these deaths were not caused by drugs smuggled into the U.S. by traffickers linked to organized crime, but by medications prescribed by health care professionals and advertised by aggressive prime time marketing campaigns in the major media.

Given that U.S. drug policy is completely contaminated by corruption and pretext, the extent to which U.S. citizens are addicted to legal and illegal substances is not surprising. In this situation, it is clear that the DEA lacks moral authority to demand that Mexico or other countries take steps to curb drug trafficking because its credibility has faded almost to the extent of that of the Mexican Ministry of Public Security in the days of Genaro García Luna.*

*Translator’s Note: Genaro García Luna, Minister of Public Security in the federal cabinet of Mexican President Felipe Calderón from 2006 to 2012, was convicted in the U.S. for taking millions of dollars from the Sinaloa drug cartel, Mexico’s largest crime syndicate.

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