Report: DEA responded slowly to increase in opioid use and abuse over past 2 decades

Data pix.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Justice investigated how the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency responded to the significant increase in opioid use and abuse over the past 2 decades, and the DEA came up lacking.

"We found that DEA was slow to respond to this growing public health crisis and that it's regulatory and enforcement efforts could have been more effective," said Michael Horowitz, Inspector General, US Department of Justice.

A report released earlier this month says the DEA  increased oxycodone production quota 400 percent between 2002 and 2013.
According to a database created by the Washington Post, there were 1.7 billion pain pills, mostly hydrocodone and oxycodone, supplied to Alabama alone from 2006 to 2012. The numbers vary by county, but for Madison County it added up to 54 pain pills per year for every resident.

The report also says the DEA does not capture sufficient data to detect rising drug trends or suspicious orders quickly.

"Which many have contributed to its overall slow response to the opioid crisis," said Horowitz.

The report points out the DEA's preregistration process does not adequately vet applicants - which include doctors, pharmacists, manufacturers, and distributors.

The DEA filed a response to the report. It says in part quote, "In the past 8 years, DEA has removed approximately 900 registrations annually, preventing further diversion of controlled substances."

In 2017, the DEA says it secured $194 million in penalties from some of the nation's largest drug distributors. As of August of 2019, it has secured $50 million in civil action.

In the past 3 years, DEA has reduced the opioid quota for the 7 most abused opioids by more than 43 percent. That could drop to 53 percent in 2020 if its new quota proposal is implemented.

The report listed several suggestions to prevent a future health crisis like this. It suggests requiring criminal background checks for all new registrant applicants and requiring electronic prescribing for all controlled substance prescriptions.

WHNT News 19 reached out to a DEA spokesperson for comment and they provided this statement:

“DEA appreciates the OIG’s assessment of the programs involved in the report and the opportunity to discuss improvements made to increase the regulatory and enforcement efforts to control the diversion of opioids. The DEA uses a wide variety of tools – administrative, civil and criminal – to fight the diversion of controlled substances. While only a minute fraction of the more than 1.8 million manufacturers, distributors, pharmacies and prescribers registered with DEA are involved in unlawful activity, DEA continuously works to identify and root out the bad actors.

In the past eight years, DEA removed approximately 900 registrations annually, preventing further diversion of controlled substances. Working with United States Attorneys’ Offices across the country, an increasing number of individuals and corporations are facing civil and criminal charges for actions that have fueled the opioid crisis. Pursuing civil actions against some of the nation’s largest drug distributors, in fiscal year 2017, DEA secured more than $194 million in civil penalties, which is more than the total of the prior seven years combined. As of August 2019, DEA has secured more than $51 million in civil penalties in the current fiscal year.

Also, in the last three years, DEA has reduced the aggregate production quota for the seven most frequently diverted controlled substance opioids. There has also been a precipitous decline in the number of these opioid prescriptions since the beginning of this Administration, down more than 30 percent from January 2017 to August 2019.”

Please see DEA’s response to the report (Appendix 4, starting on page 55) for more specific information on the steps DEA has taken and will continue to take to combat the opioid epidemic.

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