Lawmakers Raise Concerns over Patients, Community Pharmacists in Letter to DEA

Published Online: Thursday, October 4, 2012
PRESS RELEASE

Alexandria, Va. - Oct. 4, 2012 The National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) today commended a bipartisan group of 13 U.S. Representatives for a letter they jointly sent to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) requesting "clarification, guidance, and collaboration" and suggesting that the federal agency's efforts may be inadvertently preventing patients from accessing certain prescription drugs for which they have legitimate medical needs and prescriptions.

"Over the last few months, pharmacies across the country have identified a disturbing trend that is threatening the ability of legitimate patients from getting needed, lifesaving prescription drugs," the lawmakers wrote. "Specifically, many small pharmacy owners have had difficulties in obtaining certain controlled substances because the supply from wholesalers has been severely limited or shut off. ln some cases, pharmacies located near hospitals, pain clinics or facilities that serve cancer patients, have had difficulties in adequately serving the prescription drug needs of their high-risk, high-need patients. This is especially concerning considering that many of these small pharmacies serve patients in areas where an alternative source for the medications is limited or nonexistent."

"Independent community pharmacists appreciate the leadership of these lawmakers and we share their concern for patients and the pharmacists who care for them," said NCPA CEO B. Douglas Hoey, RPh, MBA. "Make no mistake, NCPA and its members agree with Congress, DEA and others regarding the need to appropriately reprimand and prosecute anyone who is knowingly feeding the nation's prescription drug abuse epidemic. At the same time, the right balance must be achieved so that patients in pain with legitimate health needs have access to the drugs their doctors prescribe.

"NCPA staff is increasingly hearing from its members at reputable, long-established community pharmacies about the challenges pharmacy staff and patients are experiencing when pharmaceutical wholesalers abruptly cut off medication supplies, presumably out of fear of the DEA or other law enforcement," Hoey added. "Part of the problem could be mixed messages out of the DEA to the pharmaceutical supply chain, leading wholesalers to constrict their supply of controlled substances. Unfortunately, independent community pharmacists can only speculate about the causes, because no one—neither DEA, nor wholesalers—are effectively communicating with them. So pharmacists are left in the dark while some patients in pain are left in need."

The letter was signed by U.S. Reps. Mark Amodei (R-NV), Lou Barletta (R-PA), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Judy Chu (D-CA), Howard Coble (R-NC), Jim Gerlach (R-PA), Tom Marino (R-PA), Pat Meehan (R-PA), Richard Nugent (R-FL), Ted Poe (R-TX), Dennis Ross (R-FL), Lee Terry (R-NE) and Peter Welch (D-VT).

The lawmakers added, "We are concerned that inconsistent interpretation and application of DEA policies, and a lack of clear guidance and communication from DEA to supply chain stakeholders, are leading to patient care issues and supply chain disruption. We are interested in better understanding how these policies are being communicated and whether DEA is monitoring their application."

NCPA has been at the forefront of working constructively to support Congress, DEA and other officials in the war against prescription drug abuse. For example, twice this year NCPA testified on Capitol Hill about how to tackle the intertwined problems of drug abuse and crimes against pharmacies. NCPA has repeatedly proposed solutions, including reducing the number of controlled substances prescribed by physicians in the first place; banning 90-day supplies of addictive painkillers by mail order pharmacies, which often "auto ship" orders whether they are needed or not; finalizing a DEA regulation to allow community pharmacies to voluntarily take back and dispose of unused or expired controlled substances; and adopting a more uniform, systems-based approach that involves patients, pharmacists, pharmacy benefit managers, wholesalers, manufacturers and prescribers.

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