WASHINGTON – Sens. John Kennedy (R-La.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Administrator, Anne Milgram, urging the DEA to apply its authorities to prevent and limit the pharmaceutical industry’s excessively high opioid production levels.
Today’s letter comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that fatal drug overdoses increased in 2021 to the highest ever level. The opioid epidemic stems from the overproduction of prescription opioids as well as extremely high levels of illegal opioids, including fentanyl, flowing across the U.S.-Mexico border.
On the domestic front, the DEA is responsible for establishing annual quotas determining the exact amount of each opioid drug that is permitted to be produced in the U.S. each year. Between 1993 and 2015, the DEA allowed aggregate production quotas for oxycodone to increase 39-fold, hydrocodone to increase 12-fold, hydromorphone to increase 23-fold and fentanyl to increase 25-fold. As a result, tens of billions of painkillers flooded the market in every corner of the nation, which ignited the current opioid epidemic.
In 2018, Durbin and Kennedy authored legislation that enhanced DEA’s opioid quota-setting authority by improving transparency and enabling DEA to adjust quotas to prevent opioid diversion and abuse while ensuring an adequate supply for legitimate medical needs.
“Section 3282 of the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act (P.L. 115-271) strengthened DEA’s statutory quota-setting authority by enhancing transparency and requiring opioid quotas to be adjusted to reflect diversion, overdose deaths, and public health. As the bipartisan authors of that section, we strongly encourage you to continue using this authority to rein in the pharmaceutical industry’s incessant demand for excessive levels of opioid production,” the senators wrote.
The senators also noted in their letter that they have previously expressed concerns that DEA was not properly following their law’s requirements to consult with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary and to consider reliable information on overdose rates, abuse and overall public health impact in order to estimate the amount of diversion and make appropriate quota reductions.
“Given that one of the most common sources of prescription drug misuse is through access from friends and family, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, we believe DEA must refine its methodologies for approximating diversion through legitimate channels. While we appreciate the challenges in directly linking patient misuse and overdose to a specific controlled substance, DEA should consult with states, HHS, and other public health experts to estimate or create proxies—based upon survey and research data—on the volume of dispensed opioids contributing to addiction and abuse,” continued the senators.
“As DEA implements the schedule II opioid production quotas for 2023 and beyond, we urge you to apply DEA’s statutory authorities to prevent and limit opioid diversion due to excessively high production levels,” they concluded.
After two decades of dramatic increases to the volume of opioids allowed to come to the market, the DEA has heeded Durbin and Kennedy’s call over the past six years to help prevent opioid addiction by responsibly reducing nearly all opioid quotas.
Unfortunately, the leading killer of Americans ages 18-45 is the fentanyl crossing the border illegally. Kennedy introduced the Ending the Fentanyl Crisis Act to address the epidemic on this front and has repeatedly called on the president to secure the border.
Last year, President Biden also signed Kennedy’s DUMP Opioids Act into law, which will help local communities get unused prescription opioids off of their streets via secure drop boxes at Veterans Affairs sites.
The full letter is available here.