DEA, states to share prescription drug information

The agreement between the agency and 48 attorneys general will help prosecute criminals, says Jeff Sessions.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has reached an agreement with attorneys general from 46 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico to share prescription drug information with one another to help with criminal investigations.

DEA will provide the attorneys general with data from its Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System (ARCOS), which collects about 80 million transaction reports annually from manufacturers and distributors of prescription drugs.

In return, the attorneys general will provide the DEA with information from their state-run prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs), electronic databases that states use to track controlled substance prescriptions by flagging suspicious patient prescribing activities.

“Better information means better decisions,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a written statement. “Agreement with 48 attorneys general will give DEA and the states alike more information they can use to prosecute the criminals who are contributing to our national drug emergency. That means more prosecutions and ultimately fewer drugs on our streets. Would-be criminals should be warned: we are now better equipped than ever to find the fraudsters who are fueling our nation’s addiction crisis.”

“This partnership provides an unprecedented opportunity to use DEA and state resources and information to jointly combat pill diversion and trafficking,” added DEA Acting Administrator Robert Patterson. “We are losing far too many Americans to opioid abuse and addiction. I salute these states for their proactive efforts and know they will make a significant difference as we attack this epidemic across the country.”

However, Leo Beletsky, associate professor of law and health sciences at Northeastern University, is not convinced that DEA’s prescription drug information-sharing agreement with 48 attorneys general will be as productive as Sessions and Patterson contend. He sees the partnership as the “downstream effect of the Department of Justice and state prosecutors recent scale-up of activity” in an effort to combat the nationwide opioid crisis.

“This is going to result in many more investigatory raids and some prosecutions of healthcare providers and pharmacists,” observes Beletsky. “We certainly should not tolerate unprofessional or downright illegal behavior among healthcare providers. But, doubling down on these prosecutions is going to do more harm than good.”

Also See: Prescription drug monitoring programs come under fire

According to Beletsky, the partnership will not be effective but will in fact be counterproductive for the following reasons.

“First, the engine of the overdose crisis is not prescription drugs but black market drugs, so the public health impact of going after these providers from the supply perspective is going to be limited,” he comments. “Second, there is a well-recognized problem of under-treated and untreated pain, and these prosecutions will further exacerbate the problem. Third, there's a well-recognized shortage of providers willing to prescribe medications for treating opioid use disorder. DEA investigations and raids will further chill provider willingness to engage in these practices.”

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