Drug distributors, that's who. An investigation by the Washington Post and 60 Minutes reveals how the DEA has been stifled in its attempts to address the opioid epidemic at the source.
“Drug dealers in lab coats”
“Doctors” wrote bad prescriptions. Pharmacies were complicit and filled those bad prescriptions. Lines were out the door. Pain management clinics popped up in South Florida and other places. DEA decided to go after the companies supplying the fraudulent clinics.
DEA had a powerful tool to use against drug distributors. Before, DEA could freeze suspicious narcotic shipments from companies. Because of the massive profits they were making, fines did not hurt the companies significantly. The DEA was prosecuting these drug companies and winning.
They were going after the big fish and winning. They weren’t looking for an extra pill here and there. They were looking for shipments that looked out of whack.
9 million pills to one pharmacy in a town of 392 residents in two years?!?
That’s right. A drug distribution company sent 9 million pills to one pharmacy in Kermit, West Virginia. Population: 392.
How could the company NOT see that something abnormal was happening?
The town of Kermit, West Viriginia, is now suing five of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical drug wholesalers. Read more here.
The pushback by the drug industry
Drug industry lobbied the top brass in the DEA. Caseload started slowing down significantly. Bosses started bogging down the litigation system. Supervisors and bosses wanted more evidence than previously requested. Cases were now not good enough. Roadblock on roadblocks.
Why the slowdown? Former DEA attorneys are now lobbyists for drug distributors.
What else happened?
Drug distributors started lobbying congressman to create legislation to make it more difficult for DEA to pursue its enforcement priorities and strip it of its powers.
Ultimately, the new bill was passed through Congress through unanimous consent. No objections. No debate. President Obama signed it into law. It is all but impossible now for the DEA to freeze a suspicious shipment.
Where are we left now?
It looks like drug companies are safe now. Without any teeth, the DEA is now going after doctors and pharmacies.
That is, until their lobbyists get to work.
Want to learn more?
Check out 60 Minutes’s segment on the epidemic, the Washington Post’s investigation, and Reveal’s podcast episode “Too Many Pills”.