Kohl Warns of Holding DEA Nominee
By Andrew Ramonas | December 1, 2021 8:18 pm

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) said he intends to place a hold on Michele Leonhart’s nomination to lead the Drug Enforcement Administration, which could doom her confirmation this year.

Michele Leonhart (photo by Daniel Hoffman / Main Justice)

Kohl, a senior Judiciary Committee member and the Senate Special Committee on Aging chairman, said he plans to hold up Leonhart over his concerns about agency policies on the dispensation of prescription drugs, The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire blog reported Wednesday.

A hold would stall the nominee that the Senate Judiciary Committee approved by voice vote Wednesday. President Barack Obama would have to re-nominate her if she is not confirmed by this Congress, which is set to adjourn in the next few weeks.

Leonhart has already been waiting a long time for confirmation; she was nominated ten months ago, in February.

Kohl said he is set to place a hold on Leonhart “until we have made more progress towards our goal of ensuring that nursing home residents get timely access to the prescription drug care they need,” the Journal reported.

At Leonhart’s nomination hearing last month, the senator implored her to “work a little harder” on providing the agency’s response to draft legislation that would allow nurses at long-term care facilities to prescribe drugs such as morphine.

Leonhart has served as the acting DEA Administrator since November 2007.

Kohl and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) wrote in an October 2009 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder that stepped-up efforts by the DEA to fight illicit prescription medicine use have made it hard for ailing  nursing home residents to obtain speedy pain relief.

Kohl met with Leonhart in May about his concerns on the dispensation of prescription drugs. In August, the senator asked the DEA for feedback on a draft bill that would allow nurses at long-term care facilities to prescribe drugs like morphine.

Leonhart would not tell Kohl at the hearing when he would get a response from the DEA, saying a reply would take time. But the acting DEA administrator said she anticipated that the DEA reply would be “favorable” to the senator.

The nominee said seeing to concerns on the matter is very important to her and the DEA. She said the agency has put in place temporary solutions that address some of the worries.

The DEA adopted new policies last month that authorize nurses to prescribe some drugs to individuals in long-term care facilities. But pain relief medicine such as morphine still needs a doctor’s prescription.

Kohl said Wednesday, according to the Journal, that the Justice Department is indicating that it is looking for all 50 states to make rules on the dispensation of prescription drugs.

“Every day nursing home patients continue to suffer from agonizing pain and we need an interim solution as soon as possible,” Kohl said, according to the Journal.

The DEA referred a request for comment from the Journal to the White House. The Journal said the White House is “looking into the matter.”

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