DEA National Drug Threat Assessment Highlights Prescription Opioids as Significant Challenge to Public Health

Last week, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) published their 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment, highlighting the various drug abuse and drug trafficking challenges communities encountered in 2020. In their assessment, the DEA noted that illicit fentanyl continued to be the primary drug responsible for overdose deaths, while deaths involving prescription opioids decreased from last year and misuse and diversion rose. The report also highlights the potential challenges to addressing opioid use that DEA local offices, law enforcement, medical professionals and community members may encounter as the drug threat landscape evolves, including the increasing number of counterfeit pills resembling prescription medications and the potential for misuse and abuse that may arise if the current COVID-19 pandemic flexibilities offered to medical professionals and patients continue beyond the pandemic without proper accountability and management. In a press release, DEA Acting Administrator D. Christopher Evans noted “This year’s report shows the harsh reality of the drug threats facing communities across the United States. While the COVID-19 pandemic plagues this nation, so, too, do transnational criminal organizations and violent street gangs, adjusting to pandemic restrictions to flood our communities with dangerous drugs. DEA and our local, state, and federal partners continue to adapt to the ever changing landscape, remaining focused on the current threats and looking to the horizon for emerging threats. We will always defend the American people against illicit substances that ruin lives, devastate families, and destroy communities.”

Articles & Resources

2020 National Drug Threat Assessment

Drug Enforcement Administration –  DEA Releases 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment

GAO 2021 High-Risk Report Includes New Section on Drug Misuse and Abuse

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently published their 2021 High-Risk Report highlighting the various government operations that are vulnerable to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement. The report, which is updated at the start of each Congress, included for the first time a section focused on drug misuse and abuse. According to a statement on GAO’s website, a section entitled “National Efforts to Prevent, Respond to, and Recover from Drug Misuse” was added to the High-Risk List this year because of increasing rates of drug misuse resulting in loss of life and negative effects to the United States economy. In his opening remarks at the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing on the report, Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) acknowledged the importance of the new section and said, “That’s the first time that it’s been one of your important, high profile, ‘high-risk’ issues. Illicit drugs, as we know, and the misuse of prescription drugs, in particular, have devastated so many people’s lives in my home state of Ohio and all around the country. The opioid epidemic in effect has been started by prescription drug abuse. Not that there weren’t uses of heroin and other opioids previously but that’s really what has spawned so much expansion on it. And unfortunately, we continue to see a lot of misuse of prescription drugs. So, I appreciate you doing it.” The GOA report also highlighted potential challenges within the federal government’s response to drug misuse and abuse, including the need for increased national leadership and coordination, the development of strategic guidance that fulfills all statutory requirements, and the need for more effective implementation and monitoring.

Articles & Resources

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee – At HSGAC Hearing, Portman Delivers Opening Remarks Highlighting GAO 2021 High-Risk Report’s Focus on Drug Misuse & Abuse, Cybersecurity & Improving Federal Oversight

GAO – Dedicated Leadership Needed to Address Limited Progress in Most High-Risk Areas

2021 High-Risk Report

What We Read Last Week

Several articles were published last week pertaining to the opioid epidemic, covering a variety of different components of the issue. Links to relevant articles are provided below.

Articles & Resources

American Academy of Pediatrics – Study: High School Students’ Past or Current Misuse of Opioid Prescriptions Associated With Suicidal Behaviors

Forbes – Biden Can Make Opioid Telemedicine Permanent Without Congress, Report Says

Health – People Seeking Drug Treatment Weren’t Ready for the Pandemic—Here’s What We Learned About Relapse and Recovery

Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons – Notable Variability in Opioid-prescribing Practices After Common Orthopaedic Procedures

Journal of the Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America – Disposal of Unused Opioids Using an At-home Disposal Method

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services – MDHHS launches campaign to promote harm reduction services

NPR – Drug Overdose Deaths Surge Among Black Americans During Pandemic

Pediatrics – Trends in Dispensed Opioid Analgesic Prescriptions to Children in South Carolina: 2010–2017

Penn Medicine News – Financial Incentives for Hospitals Boost Rapid Changes to Opioid Use Disorder Treatment

PublicSource – In curtailing overprescribing, Pennsylvania’s drug monitoring program is a limited tool in opioid epidemic

The Daily Californian – UC Berkeley researchers investigate opioid addiction treatments in rural areas

The Pew Charitable Trusts – Syringe Distribution Programs Can Improve Public Health During the Opioid Overdose Crisis

The Philadelphia Inquirer – As overdose deaths climb during the pandemic, parents of children in addiction turn to podcast for support

U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut – Doctor Admits Illegally Prescribing Oxycodone

U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut – Hartford Man Sentenced to 66 Months in Prison for Dealing Fentanyl While on Federal Supervised Release

U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut – Nurse Pleads Guilty to Tampering with Fentanyl Vials Intended for Patients at Fertility Clinic

U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Hampshire – Manchester Woman Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Distribute Fentanyl

U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania – North Philadelphia “Pill Mill” Doctor Sentenced to Five Years in Prison for Illegal Opioid Distribution

U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa – Dubuque Man Pleads Guilty to Distributing Opioids that Caused Overdose Death

U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia – Camden County jail inmate admits providing drugs that caused fellow inmate’s overdose death

U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York – Licensed Pharmacist Pleads Guilty To Making False Statements To The DEA About Controlled Substances

U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of New York – Grand Jury Indicts Depew Man For Selling Fentanyl That Led To The Deaths Of Two Individuals

U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia – Owner of Tennessee Drug Screening Lab Sentenced to 36 months on Federal Health Care Fraud Charge

U.S. Department of Justice – Doctor Sentenced to Prison for Role in Unlawful Distribution of Controlled Substances

U.S. Department of Justice – Two Doctors Charged in Illegal Opioid Distribution and Health Care Fraud Conspiracy

Washington University School of Medicine – Opioid overdose reduced in patients taking buprenorphine

This Week’s Calendar

In the week ahead, there are no relevant events or hearings noticed at this time. In the event that there are any changes to the schedule for this week, we will make additional information available.

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