DEA Proposes Further Cuts in Opioid Supply

By Pat Anson, Editor

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has proposed an additional 20 percent reduction in the manufacture of many opioid painkillers, including oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine and morphine. The proposed cuts in the opioid supply, which would be effective in 2018, are in addition to those imposed by the DEA in 2017.   

“Demand for these opioid medicines has dropped,” the DEA said in a news release, citing sales data released by the QuintilesIMS Institute, which tracks prescription drug use. About 7 million fewer prescriptions were filled for hydrocodone in 2016, the fifth consecutive year that hydrocodone prescriptions have dropped.

“Physicians, pharmacists, and patients must recognize the inherent risks of these powerful medications, especially for long-term use,” said DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg. “More states are mandating use of prescription drug monitoring programs, which is good, and that has prompted a decrease in opioid prescriptions.”

Many pain patients tell PNN that demand for opioid medicine has not dropped, but that doctors are increasingly reluctant to write opioid prescriptions because of increased oversight by the DEA, insurance companies, and federal and state regulators.  

“It is discrimination, plain and simple. I have a well-documented chronic pain condition. Social Security has deemed me 100 percent disabled,” wrote Lora Lemons. “No other chronic condition that requires medication to combat the disease is flagged the way pain producing diseases are.”

“I am prepared to commit suicide if my pain meds are drastically cut,” wrote a woman who has adhesive arachnoiditis, a chronic and disabling spinal condition. “We don't want to die, but the legislators in the federal and state governments are going to force it for those in intractable pain.”

“No other disease medication is scrutinized. We, as patients, are being denied, dismissed, overlooked and discriminated against by our physicians, due to all the scrutiny associated with treating chronic pain disease with opioid medications. Our doctors are afraid to treat us humanely and adequately,” said Candi Simonis.

Under federal law, the DEA sets production quotas for all manufacturers of opioid medication and other controlled substances. This year the agency reduced the amount of almost every Schedule II opioid medication by 25 percent or more. The 2017 quota for hydrocodone, which is sold under brand names like Vicodin, Lortab and Lorcet, was reduced by a third.

Despite those deep cuts, the DEA remains under political pressure to combat the overdose epidemic by reducing the opioid supply even further. Last month, a group of 16 U.S. senators wrote to Rosenberg saying additional cuts “are necessary to rein in this epidemic.”

The DEA published notice of its intent in the Federal Register and is accepting public comments on the proposal until September 6.

Click here to post your comment on the 2018 production quotas.