Opioid Crisis Emerges as Congressional Republicans Point to FDA Nominee’s Clinton Foundation Ties

Concern about drug addiction and the opioid crisis animated several of the contentious Senate confirmation hearings for senior officials of the Food and Drug Administration on Thursday, including one appearance by nominee Roxann Aronson, who worked on combating opioid abuse at her former employer, the William J. Clinton Foundation.

New Jersey’s Democratic senators, Cory Booker and Robert Menendez, raised concerns about the Clinton Foundation’s ties to drug companies, though they did not say explicitly that Ms. Aronson should withdraw her nomination.

In addition to the Clinton Foundation, Ms. Aronson’s current employer, the Drug Policy Alliance, received support from pharmaceutical companies, a Democratic congressman from Maine, and an advocacy group that received financial support from Steven A. Strong, a former lobbyist for some of the same drug companies who is a senior adviser to Ms. Aronson.

Mr. Menendez repeatedly questioned Ms. Aronson on whether she had been aware of drug companies’ campaign donations to other organizations, at one point asking, “Have you ever received campaign contributions from drug companies who manufacture opioids?”

Ms. Aronson replied, “It sounds like you are repeating questions,” when Mr. Menendez tried to follow up.

“With regard to the role of drug companies as a source of funding for drug policy programs, I was not aware of that,” Ms. Aronson added.

As an example, Mr. Menendez said that the Food and Drug Administration is slow to approve new prescription drugs, including opioids, so pharmaceutical companies have been “exploring alternative solutions.” But he said, “It’s not acceptable that pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the problem are also the solutions.”

Ms. Aronson reiterated her commitment to combating drug addiction and addiction, saying that her previous experience working for children’s drug prevention had shown her to be an “enabler and a placekeeper” on the issue.

Mr. Booker, echoing remarks he made earlier in the day, asked Ms. Aronson whether she would oppose the FDA’s “failure to reduce the burden of the overdose epidemic.” Ms. Aronson answered yes.

“What I can speak to is that I worked very closely with you while you were at the Clinton Foundation and while you were at the Drug Policy Alliance, and I saw you every day and worked with you closely,” Mr. Booker said. “I have not seen your face more than a couple of times in the last two years. I do know from my own interviews, you were frequently referred to as someone who is ‘a strong advocate’ for reducing the tide of opioid addiction.”

Ms. Aronson acknowledged she had “some concern” about whether her nomination could prompt an attack on her character.

“These are tough questions, tough situations — although my character’s fine,” she said.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the committee, congratulated Ms. Aronson for joining the FDA’s board of advisers.

“I hope the combination of your moral compass and your expertise on a subject like this helps you to rise above the frustration that is so frustrating for too many Americans with this epidemic,” Mr. Leahy said.

Ms. Aronson ultimately cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 14-8 vote. The full Senate is expected to approve her nomination soon.

In a joint statement, Mr. Booker and Mr. Menendez said they were “particularly disappointed” that Ms. Aronson, and the Clinton Foundation, did not disclose donations from pharmaceutical companies.

“Inaction by the FDA on tough questions would have benefitted drug manufacturers,” they said. “Our working families and seniors are paying the price.”

Leave a Comment