Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a speech on Tuesday announced that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will bolster law enforcement efforts to target both pharmacies and prescribers that dispense an inordinate amount of drugs.
The initiative is part of the agency's efforts to combat the opioid misuse epidemic.
Sessions told agents in Louisville, Kentucky, that DEA "over the next 45 days ... will surge Special Agents, Diversion Investigators, and Intelligence Research Specialists to focus on pharmacies and prescribers who are dispensing unusual or disproportionate amounts of drugs."
Sessions said DEA officials will aggregate information from the roughly 80 million transaction reports the agency collects annually, which include distribution and inventory figures, to find "patterns, trends, [and] statistical outliers" in drug dispensing "and put them into targeting packages." He said, "That will help us make more arrests, secure more convictions—and ultimately help us reduce the number of prescription drugs available for Americans to get addicted to or overdose from these dangerous drugs."
In response to the initiative, the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) said it "looks forward to obtaining more information on [DOJ's] efforts to combat this serious problem facing Americans." APhA added that to the extent possible, it "encourages [DOJ] to engage pharmacists in setting policies and in developing targeted efforts to combat opioid abuse and misuse to provide perspective regarding pharmacy practices and operations, and to limit unnecessary enforcement activities that impede patient access to legitimately prescribed medications."
Sessions announces joint effort to address illicit online opioid sales
Separately, Sessions on Monday announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI have launched a new team intended to help federal law enforcement disrupt illicit opioid sales on the internet.
The Joint Criminal Opioid Darknet Enforcement (J-CODE) team will focus on shutting down online marketplaces where drug traffickers sell illicit opioids, according to DOJ. Sessions said FBI under the initiative will dedicate dozens more intelligence analysts, professional staff, and special agents to focus on online opioid trafficking (Horwitz/Higham, Washington Post, 1/30; Rondinone, Hartford Courant, 1/30; Finnegan, FierceHealthcare, 1/30; Bowden, The Hill, 1/30; Diamond, "Pulse," Politico, 2/1; Department of Justice release, 1/30; Department of Justice release, 1/29).
Next: How to combat the opioid epidemic
Opioid misuse and abuse is one of the most pressing public health issues in the U.S., and hospitals and health systems are on the front lines. Currently, most health systems focus their opioid management efforts on select medical specialties.
This report outlines three imperatives to guide hospitals and health systems in their efforts to reduce the impact of inappropriate opioid prescribing and misuse.