Attorney General Jim Hood Credit: Rogelio V. Solis, AP

Attorney General Jim Hood is asking the federal government to repeal a law that he says has handicapped the efforts to regulate drug distributors, allowing the opioid epidemic to flourish.

Hood joined 44 states and territories sending a letter to Congress this week asking for the repeal of the “Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act.” The law, which President Obama signed in 2016, strips the federal Drug Enforcement Agency of its ability to regulate drug distributors that over-ship supplies of opioids to pharmacies and communities.

“This bill is essentially paving the way for more people to be killed by opioids because it makes access to the drug that much easier, and Congress needs to own up to their role in this epidemic by repealing the law immediately,” Hood said. “Mississippi is in the middle of this crisis just like the rest of the country, and if we need to take legal action against the companies distributing these drugs, then we absolutely will.”

Prior to this law, the DEA had the authority to immediately freeze shipments of narcotics from distributors that it deemed suspicious. But the law requires the DEA to prove the company’s actions pose “a substantial likelihood of an immediate threat,” something critics of the law believe hinders fast action in stopping the oversupplying of drugs to pharmacies.

In the letter, the group of attorneys general calls the new law “a step backward in our collective effort to prevent the diversion and misuse of prescription drugs.”

“In the midst of this deepening public health crisis – at a time when our nation needs every available weapon at its disposal to combat the opioid epidemic – the Act effectively strips the Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) of a mission-critical tool, namely, the ability to issue an immediate suspension order against a drug manufacturer or distributor whose unlawful conduct poses an imminent danger to public health or safety,” the letter reads.

In October, Hood announced he and 32 other states were investigating whether three drug distributors, Amerisource Bergen, Cardinal Health and McKeeson Medical Supply, illegally marketed, sold or distributed prescription opioids. Federal law requires drug distributors to notify the DEA if they’re shipping an unusual quantity of drugs to a pharmacy.

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Larrison Campbell is a Greenville native who reports on politics with an emphasis on public health. She received a bachelor’s from Wesleyan University and a master’s from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.Larrison is a 2018 National Press Foundation fellow in public health, a 2019 Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts fellow in health care reporting and a 2019 Center for Health Journalism National Fellow.