DEA Failed to Stop Huge Opioid Shipments, Senator Says

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U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) says a new report shows that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration failed to hold major drug distributors accountable as prescription opioids poured into Missouri from 2012 to 2017, the Kansas City Star reports. The report shows that the three top opioid distributors reported wildly different numbers of suspicious shipments to the DEA and the federal agency didn’t use its most potent enforcement tool — the immediate suspension order — to stop distributors from making questionable shipments. The report “calls into question how effective the DEA is being in terms of overseeing the distribution of opioids,” McCaskill said.

DEA spokesman Rusty Payne said the agency has initiated about 1,500 cases and made about 2,000 arrests a year over the last seven years. It also ramped up its drug diversion squads from 46 in 2012 to 77 today to address the opioid crisis. McCaskill’s report suggests the agency has come down harder on smaller players like doctors and pharmacies than the major drug distributors that shipped them prescription opioids. The report says McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen, the three giants of the pharmaceutical drug distribution industry, shipped 1.6 billion doses of opioids to Missouri from 2012 to 2017. That works out to 260 doses for each person in the state. Some drugs were stolen, diverted or sold to people who weren’t medically supposed to be using them, helping fuel an opioid epidemic that causes hundreds of deaths a year and has increased overdose-related trips to Missouri emergency rooms by more than 20 percent. Payne noted that DEA has fined all three distributors for failing to stem suspicious opioid shipments, including a record $150 million settlement with McKesson last year.

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