PHILADELPHIA — The Pennsylvania congressman who appears to be President Donald Trump’s choice as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy has a track record that is making him a lightning rod for criticism in the drug-treatment community and among advocates for patients’ rights.
Rep. Tom Marino, a former district attorney and federal prosecutor from Williamsport, Pa., is a well-known anti-drug warrior. A staunch opponent of legalizing both medical and recreational marijuana, Marino also has advocated locking up nonviolent drug offenders until they submit to treatment.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy, advises the president on drug issues and coordinates national and global anti-drug efforts. His appointment as the office’s director would require Senate confirmation.
The Republican was one of the first members of Congress to openly support Trump’s presidential candidacy.
Marino, a self-described “deplorable,” also has been one of the most vociferous opponents of the Affordable Care Act. The health care law has helped provide more access to drug-treatment services to poor people under an expanded Medicaid program.
In Congress, Marino voted several times against protecting residents of states where cannabis is legal from prosecution under federal drug laws, rejected allowing the Veterans Affairs Department to administer medical marijuana to veterans, and cast votes against measures that would allow industrial hemp.
Marino has said he recognizes that the nation has a substance-abuse epidemic. In 2015, there were more than 52,400 overdose deaths, and nearly 13,000 of those fatalities related to heroin, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
Critics are troubled by Marino’s get-tough solutions. In congressional testimony, Marino said drug abusers should be held in “a secured hospital-type setting under the constant care of health professionals.”
After people plead guilty to drug-possession charges, Marino said, they should be placed under “intensive treatment program until experts determine they should be released under intense supervision. If this is accomplished then the charges are dropped against that person.”
Many advocates say forcing treatment isn’t legal and wouldn’t work.
“I’m not sure it would pass constitutional muster,” said Roseanne Scotti, director of the Drug Policy Alliance in New Jersey. “No medical professional would think this is a good idea. No expert on treatment would think it was a good idea.”
Forcing treatment is rarely, if ever, effective, Scotti said. For example, , heroin users who return to the street after a court-mandated stay frequently die of overdoses soon after release because they have reduced their tolerance for the drug, but don’t receive the support they need afterward to stay drug-free.
“We’re not just setting them up for failure,” Scotti said. “We’re setting them up to die.”
Marino’s allies, however, say he’s just what the nation needs.
“This will be wonderful if the president picks Tom,” said Rob Gleason, the former chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, who helped guide Marino on his ascent to Congress.
According to Gleason, the Trump administration is considering re-elevating the Office of National Drug Control Policy director back to a Cabinet-level post. As recently as February, Trump considered eliminating the office.
“The really good thing is that it’s not an afterthought,” Gleason said. “This could be a momentous step in the war on drugs.”
©2017 The Philadelphia Inquirer
Visit The Philadelphia Inquirer at www.philly.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.