All eyes are on Sen. Jim Merritt (R-IN) after Politico reporter Adam Cancryn tweeted that the Indiana politician is “under consideration for White House drug czar.” President Trump’s initial pick for the job, Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) withdrew his name from consideration after his history of assisting Big Pharma became public last month.
Indiana state Sen. Jim Merritt — a lead voice on Indy’s opioid efforts — in the running for White House drug czar: https://t.co/8LbZFJFwJJ
— Adam Cancryn (@adamcancryn) November 6, 2017
Marino was pressured to remove himself from consideration after stories broke detailing his support for the pharmaceutical industry and simultaneous curtailing of enforcement efforts against them. The sudden change in plans occurred right before Trump’s promised revelation of his plan to cure the opioid epidemic.
Now, if we’re to believe Jim Merritt’s candidacy claim, the Indiana senator is one of an unknown number of people under consideration for the nation’s top drug job. The next White House drug czar will be tasked with eliminating an opioid problem that has become a bloated and convoluted issue fraught with bureaucratic obstacles like the Controlled Substances Act and pharmaceutical lobbyists.
Merritt has a checkered past when it comes to voting on marijuana issues. The state senator, who supported the decriminalization of marijuana possession in Indiana with his vote in 2013, also alluded to his belief that marijuana is a gateway drug.
When the Rocky Mountain High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area organization released their highly contentious 2016 report that stated marijuana legalization had negative ramifications for the state of Colorado, Merritt applauded the findings.
“It does create crime and it is not something we want our children to get mixed up in,” Merritt said.
The possible future drug czar has taken a hard stance against black market opioid dealers this year, filling a key role in passing more than 15 new pieces of legislation that take direct aim at street sales. This was in stark contrast to his previous approach to alleviating Indiana’s addiction woes in recent years with a greater focus on education and health care.
In October, Merritt laid out his plan for turning the ship around, offering a peek at what kind of drug czar we may be able to expect should he be nominated and confirmed. Merritt plans to introduce bills that would:
- Institute a minimum sentence of 10 years for dealers whose product is found to have caused a fatality.
- Establish laws that target producers and distributors of synthetically-produced drugs.
- Levy a 10-year minimum sentence on anyone found selling drugs that contain fentanyl, a contributing factor in an aggressively growing number of fatal overdoses nationwide.
State Sen. Merritt also voted his pledge of support for clean needle exchanges in the state of Indiana and has expressed his openness to try new approaches to an old problem.
“I’m empowering prosecutors and I think that’s what we need to do,” Merritt explained. “Because it’s not working right now.”
Last year, Indiana lawmakers passed legislation giving local governments more freedom to start needle exchanges, limited the number of opioids doctors could prescribe, and created a pilot program to help opioid-addicted pregnant women and those with newborns.
Critics have said that while they appreciate Merritt addressing the supply concerns in Indiana, his solutions fail to eliminate the flow of these drugs into the state, where they will surely find new distribution.
While Merritt is taking a balanced approach, keeping the hand of law enforcement strong while staying open to modern tactics like supplying emergency personnel with overdose antidotes and convincing insurance providers to cover addiction treatment costs, his goal of ending Indiana’s heroin epidemic within five years is challenging to say the least.
“A lot of times in politics people are afraid to put a goal out there because you might not make it and then you’ll subject yourself to a lot of criticism,” Merritt said. “But we need a goal. We need a vision. And I’m not going to apologize for having a big goal. I want to kill heroin within five years.”
Photo courtesy of Tom Britt