November 01, 2016

Manchin, Group of Senators Call on DEA, Justice Department to Explain Reduction of Enforcement Efforts Against Wholesale Opioid Distributors

Senators express concerns that DEA, in coordination with DOJ, scaled back enforcement against violators, allowing more legal controlled substances to enter the illicit drug market as opioid epidemic exploded

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) joined a group of senators in sending a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) questioning both agencies about lax enforcement efforts against wholesale opioid distributors that may have violated federal rules intended to prevent legal controlled substances from entering the illicit market.

The Senators wrote in part: “While much of the national attention has focused rightly on opioid painkiller manufacturers like Purdue Pharma, wholesale distributors also play a significant role in the crisis when they place prescription drugs in the hands of corrupt drugstores, pill mills, and crooked physicians. DEA’s Diversion Control Division is charged with disrupting and preventing this flow of pharmaceuticals for illicit purposes while maintaining an adequate supply for legitimate needs.”

A recent story in the Washington Post (“The DEA slowed enforcement while the opioid epidemic grew out of control”, October 22, 2016) revealed that, over the last several years, as opioid overdose deaths began to dramatically rise, the DEA was hampered in its enforcement efforts. Several roadblocks, including requiring DEA to use a higher standard of proof before enforcement cases could proceed, and other efforts by the industry to circumvent the agency, led to a drop in civil case filings against distributors, manufacturers, pharmacies, and doctors, from 131 in fiscal year 2011 to just 40 in fiscal year 2014. However, in 2014 alone, U.S. retail pharmacies dispensed 245 million opioid painkiller prescriptions and there were 28,647 opioid overdose deaths.

Other senators signing the letter include Dick Durbin (D-IL), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

To read the full text of the letter, click here.