Congress rips DEA for failing to stop drug firms from flooding WV with painkillers

Federal lawmakers chided the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) yesterday for failing to stop prescription drug distributors from shipping tens of millions of opioid painkillers to small town pharmacies in Southern West Virginia, reports Eric Eyre, staff writer for the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Members of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee demanded to know why the DEA didn’t act while the drug companies supplied more than 20 million pain pills to pharmacies in towns with fewer than 3,000 people.

Drug distributors delivered more than 780 million doses of hydrocodone and oxychodone over six years, data shows.  The oversupply is widely blamed with starting the opioid crisis that’s causing record number of drug overdose deaths across the state.

DEA Acting Administrator Robert Patterson told House members that the agency was “reactive” in trying to track the shipments when pill numbers surged in West Virginia between 2006 and 2011.  “Where we have fallen short in the past is by not proactively leveraging the data that is available to us,” Patterson said.

The DEA’s “manual process” took up to a year to count and confirm the painkiller numbers, he said.  “Everything was coming in on paper and tape,” Patterson said.

Subcommittee members chastised the DEA, saying the federal agency “screwed up” while people were dying.  West Virginia has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation.

The DEA now has an automated drug-tracking database and works closely with states that operate prescription-monitoring programs, such as West Virginia’s Board of Pharmacy.

The DEA also unveiled a website in February that allows drug distributors to check whether any competitors are shipping to the same pharmacy.  Some pharmacies order drugs from three or more distributors.   “We use the data in a very different way today,” Patterson said.