Compared to some of Donald Trump’s other cabinet and department picks, Scott Gottlieb didn’t come with much baggage.
Nominated as the head of the Food and Drug Administration, Gottlieb is a practicing physician who ran an office within the FDA during the Bush presidency. He a stalwart conservative with a background in health and over a decade of industry expertise.
That same industry expertise is what has Senate Democrats worried.
Over the past several weeks, Gottlieb has come under increased scrutiny as Congress examines whether he’s a competent fit for the job.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said the nominee had too many financial interests tangled up in the pharmaceutical field to be trusted. One specific accusation was Gottlieb was too entangled in the system to effectively fight the opioid epidemic which has ravaged Appalachia and tracts of the country from coast to coast.
“We are suffering this public health epidemic because big pharma pushed pills they knew were dangerous and addictive, the FDA approved them, often without expert counsel, and doctors – because they do not have mandatory education on these drugs – prescribed them,” said Markey.
“It is a vicious and deadly cycle that has turned this nation into the United States of Oxy. And it must stop.”
Gottlieb raised eyebrows after explaining the platform he’d push if were put in charge of the FDA. Some of his ideas include reducing the time it takes for pharmaceutical companies to get new medications on the market, as well as increased input from physicians in determining what medicines are effective.
Brown was vehement in saying the FDA needed a leader who would fight to keep “Big Pharma” at bay rather than “roll over for his big pharma friends.”
The nominee has served as a consultant and member of the advisory board for half a dozen pharmaceutical companies, including GlaxoSmithKline and Bristol-Myers Squibb. Over the past ten years, Gottlieb has received tens of millions of dollars from industry agents and organizations.
In an attempt to stymie some of the criticism, Gottlieb has offered to recuse himself from decisions involving his corporate interests for up to a year. His recusal could be caused by any one of more than two dozen companies he’s received money from or holds financial stakes in.
The Hill makes mention of Markey and Brown’s concern over Gottlieb’s past statement as well. In 2013, the doctor had written an op-ed for Forbes magazine, in which questioned whether the DEA has the authority to police opioids. Instead of insisting on an abuse crackdown, Gottlieb suggested that the DEA should take the backseat to the Department of Health and Human Services.
“Take away DEA oversight over prescription opioids and give that authority to the FDA. Then, at the same time, limit the FDA’s ability to utilize its full oversight authority over these addictive products,” Markey said.
“That would leave a mostly unregulated marketplace for big pharmaceutical companies and their opioid painkillers to thrive, while American families pay the highest price with their lives.”