Oct 1, 2019

DOJ watchdog slams DEA for approving large surge in opioid production

Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP/Getty Images

The Drug Enforcement Agency authorized manufacturers to continue producing substantial amounts of the narcotic painkiller oxycodone between 2002 and 2013, despite the dramatic increase in deaths from opioid overdoses, according to a report by the Justice Department's inspector general released Tuesday.

Why it matters: Drug companies have been the target of blame for the drastic climb in opioid overdose deaths in the U.S. over the past 2 decades, and they're now facing thousands of lawsuits from cities and other communities. The companies' defense in many of these lawsuits is that they were producing pills at a level permissible by the DEA.

"We found that DEA was slow to respond to the significant increase in the use and diversion of opioids since 2000. We also found that DEA did not use its available resources, including its data systems and strongest administrative enforcement tools, to detect and regulate diversion effectively. Further, we found that DEA policies and regulations did not adequately hold registrants accountable or prevent the diversion of pharmaceutical opioids."
— DOJ inspector general

By the numbers: Overdose deaths rose by an average of 8% from 1999 to 2013 and then spiked to 71% from 2013 to 2017, per the report.

  • The DEA, which is responsible for setting the level of narcotic painkillers that can be produced annually, approved a 400% increase in oxycodone output between 2002 and 2013. Cuts in production didn't begin until 2017.

Though last year was the first time opioid deaths dropped in 30 years, the decline in overall mortality appears to be driven mainly by a decline in the abuse of prescription painkillers.

  • Yes, but: Overdoses involving fentanyl, cocaine and meth are all continuing to increase.

Go deeper: Purdue Pharma's bankruptcy doesn't clear all legal hurdles

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The West has a meth problem

Santa Ana police officers inspecting crystal meth and tools for stealing cars in 2016. Photo: Leonard Ortiz/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images

Methamphetamine led to more drug overdose deaths in 19 western states in 2017 than fentanyl, according to a new report from the CDC.

Between the lines: This was the first time that the CDC has broken down regional differences in overdose deaths by drug, the Wall Street Journal writes.

Go deeperArrowOct 28, 2019

Synthetic opioid crisis still growing, often among unwitting users

A bag of fentanyl seized by law enforcement. Photo: David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Although opioid prescriptions in the U.S. have fallen, opioid overdose deaths — 47,000 in 2018 — remain at historic levels. The continued spread of fentanyl and other illicitly manufactured synthetic opioids suggest the problem could still get worse.

The big picture: Inexpensive and widely available on the internet, fentanyl is attractive to dealers who make counterfeit prescription pills or mix it into heroin. Fentanyl, however, is extremely potent, leading more users to fatally overdose.

Go deeperArrowOct 14, 2019

Major drug companies reach $260 million settlement in federal opioid trial

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Drug distributors McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc., AmerisourceBergen Corp. and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, an Israeli-based manufacturer of generic drugs, reached a $260 million settlement on Monday to avoid the first federal opioid trial that was set to begin in Cleveland, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: People familiar with the discussions told the New York Times that a broader settlement to resolve thousands of cases brought by local governments and states could be announced later in the day.

Go deeperArrowOct 21, 2019