DEA's Crackdown on Pain Medication Abuse: Out of Step

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Does the Drug Enforcement Administration have standards that are impossible to meet?

USA Today reports that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) “have expanded their crackdown on painkiller abuse, charging a major health care company and two CVS pharmacies in Florida with violating their licenses to sell powerful pain ‘medications’ and other drugs.” The agency “linked Cardinal Health to unusually high shipments of the controlled drugs to four pharmacies. On Friday, the DEA suspended Cardinal’s controlled substances license at its Lakeland, Fla., distribution center, which services 2500 pharmacies in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.”

For some time, I have been wondering if the DEA, in its current focus, is an agency out of step with the needs we have today. Although I personally have not reached the point where we need to decriminalize the use of controlled substances, I do feel that we shouldn’t expect legitimate licensed agencies like drug wholesalers to be expected to accomplish what law enforcement agencies are not able to do.

I have spoken to some executives of pharmaceutical wholesalers who feel that the DEA expectations are impossible to meet. It seems to me that we end up putting controls on the legitimate elements in health care while the offenders keep doing wrong.

To me, another example of the way the DEA is out of step is in how they have been so slow in developing mechanisms to use e-prescribing with controlled substances. They have certainly not demonstrated any leadership in this arena.

I applaud Cardinal Health for taking the DEA on, not because we don’t want to get Pain Clinic prescription mills closed down—but because we don’t want to do it at the expense of legitimate providers who are truly meeting patient needs.

What do you think about the role DEA is now playing in health care?

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