Sessions to DEA: Evaluate opioid production quota
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is asking the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to evaluate whether changes are needed to the amount of opioids drug makers are allowed to produce.
If needed, potential alterations could be made through an interim final rule, which allows an agency to issue a new regulation effective immediately without first going through the notice and comment period.
In Sessions’s memo to the DEA, he noted that studies have indicated the U.S. is an outlier compared to other countries in how many opioid prescriptions are given out each year.
Every year, the DEA sets the production and manufacturing quotas for Schedule I and II controlled substances.
“Given the urgency of this crisis, with an estimated 175 Americans dying per day, we need the DEA to act quickly to determine if changes are needed in the quotas,” Sessions wrote in the memo.
In July, 15 Democratic senators and Independent Sen. Angus King (Maine) sent a letter to then-acting DEA administrator Chuck Rosenberg, asking him to reduce the opioid quotas for 2018. They noted that between 1993 and 2015, the DEA approved a 39-fold increase of oxycodone, 12-fold increase of hydrocodone and a 25-fold increase of fentanyl.
They praised the DEA’s decision to decrease nearly all opioid production quotas by 25 percent or more for 2017, but wrote that “however, the 2017 production quota levels for numerous Schedule II opioids remain dramatically higher than they were a decade ago.”
In December, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) filed a lawsuit against the DEA challenging the production quotas for 2018 and seeking more transparency and input in the process.
The filing deadline for initial submissions had been extended twice, and was set for March 1. In light of Sessions’s announcement, Morrisey put the lawsuit on hold while the DEA evaluates the quotas.
“I heartily applaud Attorney General Sessions for the major step he is taking and for his continued collaboration with our office to protect West Virginians from this deadly scourge of opioid excess,” Morrisey — who is running for the Senate — said at a press conference. He didn’t make his lawsuit public at the time, discussing it for the first time publicly on Thursday.
The opioid epidemic has hit both urban and rural areas all across the country and shows no sign of abating.
Opioid overdose deaths increased nearly 28 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
—Updated at 6:37 p.m.