16 Senators Urge DEA to Lower Opioid Supply Again

By Pat Anson, Editor

Sixteen U.S. senators have sent a letter to the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration asking the agency to consider further cuts in the supply of hydrocodone, oxycodone and other opioid pain medication in 2018.

The DEA, which regulates that amount of controlled substances that can be manufactured each year, reduced the quota for Schedule II opioids by 25 percent or more in 2017 after receiving a similar letter last summer.  The supply of hydrocodone, one of the most widely used painkillers, was cut by 34 percent.

“We commend DEA on taking initial steps last year to lower production quotas for the first time in a generation,” the senators wrote to DEA acting administrator Chuck Rosenberg.

“However, the 2017 production quota levels for numerous schedule II opioids remain dramatically higher than they were a decade ago.  Further reductions, through DEA’s existing quota-setting authority, are necessary to rein in this epidemic.”

The letter, which was drafted by Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, was signed by 15 other Democrats and one Independent: Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Angus King (I-Maine).

Between 1993 and 2015, the senators say the DEA allowed production quotas for oxycodone to increase 39-fold, hydrocodone to increase 12-fold, hydromorphone to increase 23-fold, and fentanyl to increase 25-fold.

Production quotas may have been rising, but opioid prescriptions have actually been falling for several years.  Last week the CDC released a report acknowledging that opioid prescribing in the U.S. has fallen by 18 percent since 2010.  

Many PNN readers have complained that since the 2017 quotas were adopted they now have trouble getting legitimate prescriptions filled because pharmacies do not keep enough pain medication in stock.

“My pharmacy has been trying to fill my pain medication for 6 days now,” wrote Karen. “So I call my pain management office and (they) don't know there is a shortage! Help us get our medication!”

“I am horrified by the absolute stupidity of these lawmakers who have no business making any decisions about my pain management!” wrote Tracey, who has been taking pain medication for 5 years. “All of the lawmakers said this would not affect those with already established chronic pain! Well guess what they lied!”

“I am writing to each one of these senators and letting them know how I feel on this issue. We need to vote these people OUT of office come election time, send them a powerful message. Although at this point the damage is already done. People like myself shouldn't have to consider suicide to end their constant pain,” wrote Jenny.

While many patients complain of shortages, the senators who signed the letter talk about states being “flooded” with opioids.

“Pharmaceutical companies have irresponsibly flooded states with millions and millions of opioids pills – enough, in fact, for every adult in America to have their own bottle,” Sen. King said in a statement. “And the consequences are both clear and dire: As the number of pills has grown, so has the drug epidemic. By scaling back the overabundance of these opioids, the DEA can help directly stem the tide of addiction while still also ensuring that those who suffer from chronic pain have the medication they need.”