Durbin: We Need A Comprehensive, Smart, And Effective Approach To Opioid Addiction

Following IG Report, Durbin Blasts DEA’s Failure To More Proactively Prevent Big Pharma’s Excessive Opioid Production

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today, in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing addressing the opioid epidemic, slammed the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for inadequate oversight and accountability of Big Pharma’s role in fueling the nation’s worst drug epidemic in history.  Durbin called on the DEA to use its new authorities—passed into law by Durbin and Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) last year—to improve its monitoring of opioid shipments across the country and reduce the volume of painkillers that the DEA permits the pharmaceutical industry to produce each year. In its 2020 proposal for controlled substance production quotas, DEA explained it would not adjust opioid production quotas to reflect the abuse, overdose, and public health harms created by excessively high opioid manufacturing.

“What does it take? How do we get the DEA to acknowledge that approximately eight billion opioid doses is dramatically more than could possibly be used for legitimate medical purposes?” Durbin said. “If our government doesn’t start a reasonable regulation of the production, Pharma will continue to ask for more…far beyond what’s medically necessary and far beyond what’s needed for chronic pain and ordinary uses. So if the DEA – the Drug Enforcement Administration – is not in on the program, we’re going nowhere with this conversation.”

Durbin also expressed concerns over a Trump Administration proposal to place all “fentanyl-related” substances on Schedule 1, saying that it could block vital research to discover life-saving antidotes. In July, Durbin sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services expressing concern that DOJ and DEA have not adequately consulted with public health agencies in connection with the Trump Administration’s recent scheduling request.

A recent study of fentanyl overdoses in Massachusetts from 2014 to 2016 found that 83 percent of patients required more than two naloxone doses. Naloxone is not always strong enough to stop the latest forms of fentanyl-related overdoses, and researchers have not yet identified the antidote that is.

“Now, we need to make sure that, as we combat the spread of synthetic fentanyl analogues, we do not impede scientific research that can save people who overdose on these drugs and we do not criminalize harmless substances in the process,” Durbin said. “Many researchers believe a more powerful antidote may actually include fentanyl or some analogue. 

Video of Durbin’s remarks in Committee are available here.

Audio of Durbin’s remarks in Committee is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s remarks in Committee is available here for TV Stations.

Last year, after passage of Durbin and Kennedy’s Opioid Quota Reform Act of 2018, DEA was granted new authorities that enhanced its opioid quota-setting authority by improving transparency and enabling DEA to adjust quotas to prevent opioid diversion and abuse while ensuring an adequate supply for legitimate medical needs.  In November, Durbin and Kennedy sent a letter to the DEA in urging it to better comply with the 2018 law they passed and not to ignore important health information when setting new opioid production quotas.

Between 1993 and 2015, the DEA allowed production of oxycodone to increase 39-fold, hydrocodone to increase 12-fold, and fentanyl to increase 25-fold.  As a result, the number of opioid pain relievers dispensed in the United States skyrocketed. The increase in opioid-related overdose deaths has mirrored the dramatic rise in opioid prescribing, with more than 42,000 deaths in 2016. In 2016, the pharmaceutical industry put 14 billion opioid doses on the market—enough for every adult to have a one-month supply.

After two decades of dramatic increases to the volume of opioids allowed to come to the market, the DEA has heeded Durbin and Kennedy’s repeated calls to help prevent opioid addiction by responsibly reducing nearly all opioid quotas.  As a result of these reductions, DEA’s opioid quota levels for 2020 would permit approximately 8 billion opioid doses to be authorized for production.  However, the Senators in their November letter pointed out that DEA still failed to take into consideration statistics on opioid overdoses, deaths, and public health impact when setting the 2020 quotes despite clear direction from Congress to do so.  Durbin and Kennedy included language in the FY20 appropriations bill to require DEA to perform data collection in order to meet this obligation.