IG: As Rate of Opioid Overdose Deaths Increased, DEA Okayed More Opioid Production

By Kharen Martinez Murcia | October 3, 2019 | 4:01pm EDT
(Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) -- A new report from the Justice Department’s Inspector General about the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) shows that “from 2003 to 2013, the DEA authorized manufacturers to produce substantially larger amounts of opioids,” even though opioid overdose deaths were growing at a rate of 8 percent each year from 1999 to 2013.

In addition, the report concluded that the DEA was “slow to respond” to the increase of opioid abuse.

“We found that the rate of opioid overdose deaths in the United States grew, on average, by 8 percent per year from 1999 through 2013 and by 71 percent per year from 2013 through 2017,” reads the IG’s report, Review of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Regulatory and Enforcement Efforts to Control the Diversion of Opioids.

(Dept. of Justice, Inspector General)

“Yet, from 2003 through 2013 DEA was authorizing manufacturers to produce substantially larger amounts of opioids,” states the report. “For example, the Aggregate Production Quota (APQ) of oxycodone in the United States, which DEA establishes annually, increased over 400 percent between 2002 and 2013.  It was not until 2017 that DEA significantly reduced the APQ for oxycodone, by 25 percent.  In 2018, DEA further reduced the APQ for oxycodone by 6 percent.”

In addition, the “DEA did not use its available resources, including its data systems and strongest administrative enforcement tools, to detect and regulate diversion effectively,” said the IG report.

In one area, the report explains, the DEA was sloppy in handling what is called “pre-registration” of pharmacists and pharmacies, a process of examination and screening to help ensure that the pharmacies know what to do to deter and prevent the diversion of opioids.

The “DEA’s pre-registration process did not appropriately safeguard against the diversion of pharmaceutical opioids,” states the report. The “DEA did not conduct background checks on all new applicants and relied instead on the good faith of applicants to disclose relevant information, even in cases in which the applicant had previously engaged in criminal activity.”

(Getty Images)

The report also touched on other concerns, such as the fact that after a “revocation” of registration it is possible to re-apply after one day; that the DEA does not usually use its strongest enforcement tool, the ISO (Immediate Suspension Order,) which revokes the right to handle anything related to narcotic substances; and lastly, the DEA does not mandate electronic prescriptions, which have proven to be safer.

“[W]hile electronic prescriptions can prevent prescription fraud in many instances, DEA has not taken steps to revise its regulations and require all prescribers to submit prescriptions electronically,” states the IG report.

(DOJ, Inspector General)

Opioids were declared an epidemic by President Donald Trump in October  2017. Research by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) showed that in 2017 more than 70,000 people died from drug overdoses, “making it a leading cause of injury-related deaths in the United States.” Most of those deaths (68.7%) involved a prescription or illicit opioid, said the CDC.

Since 2000, more than 300,000 people have died from drug overdoses.

The DEA responded to the IG report by taking steps to implement its recommendations, which include criminal background checks for all new pharmacists; installation of a network to identify emerging drug abuse trends; sending “suspicious orders,” suspicious packages to DEA headquarters; implementing electronic prescriptions; and ”developing a national prescription opioid enforcement strategy that encompasses the work of all DEA field divisions.”

 “[A]ccording to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the economic burden of the opioid epidemic is an estimated $78.5 billion every year, with state and local governments funding 25 percent of that burden,” according to the IG report. “In addition, increased healthcare and substance abuse treatment costs contributed $28.9 billion to this economic burden.”

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