Two years after passing legislation to limit pharmaceutical companies from flooding the market with painkillers, two Senators are now urging the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to adjust opioid quotas down to prevent diversion and abuse.
U. S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and John Kennedy (R-LA) wrote in a letter to Acting DEA Administrator Timothy Shea that the surge in opioid overdoses and deaths due to COVID-19 point to an ongoing opioid crisis. The two Senators urged Shea to use the authority provided by Congress to review opioid production quota increases for 2021 and ensure those levels strike a balance between preventing oversupply while ensuring the drugs’ availability for ventilator patients.
“While we appreciate the initial steps taken in recent years to reduce the aggregate production quotas for schedule II opioids, we remain concerned that they are still higher than necessary to meet legitimate medical needs,” wrote the Senators. “As powerful painkillers are aggressively marketed and prescribed at high rates, this sheer volume of available opioids heightens the risk for illicit diversion and abuse.”
The Senators also noted their concern over the DEA’s explanation of its 2019 quota was flawed in that it relied on reported theft loss and seizure when estimating diversion of opioids, instead of considering public health, opioid sales, addiction and overdose, or death data.
“While we appreciate the challenges in directly linking patient overdoses to a specific controlled substance, DEA cannot merely ignore or discard this essential information from the quota-setting process … The statute is clear that DEA must exercise its quota authority to serve as a gatekeeper and weigh the public health impact of how many opioids it allows to be sold each year in the United States,” the Senators wrote.