On January 30, 2020, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) released the 2019 National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA).  The 152-page publication “outlines the threats posed to the United States by domestic and international drug trafficking and the abuse of illicit drugs.”  Of specific relevance to readers of DEA Chronicles, the report also discusses the abuse and misuse of controlled prescription drugs (CPDs).  While I encourage you to read the entire report, here are a few key takeaways regarding CPDs:

  • While opioid-related overdose deaths decreased slightly, “benzodiazepines and antidepressants were involved in an increasing number of overdose deaths.”
  • “[T]he number of CPDs lost in transit has reached its highest level since 2010.” The top three states with lost in transit incidents are Arizona, Wisconsin, and Missouri.
  • Deaths involving opioids have remained stable after peaking in 2016, “with the most common CPDs involved in overdose deaths are methadone, oxycodone, and hydrocodone.”
  • DEA touts new prescribing guidelines, lower quotas, and increased law enforcement “scrutiny” as the primary reasons for prescription opioid availability dropping to its lowest level since 2006.
  • “[53.1%] of prescription pain reliever abusers obtained their most recently misused CPDs from a friend or relative for free, in exchange for payment, or via theft.”

(emphasis added by me)

Aside from providing useful information to law enforcement agencies and the general public, the NDTA can also be read as a guide to what DEA will focus on in the coming year(s). Certainly, the increased prevalence of overdose deaths attributed to benzodiazepines and antidepressants signals possible increased scrutiny of the prescribing, dispensing, and distribution of those drugs.  The lost in transit data is also surprising and will likely result in a closer look at distribution networks and the security of shipments containing CPDs.

Apropos of nothing, the amount of bulk harvested marijuana seized at indoor and outdoor grow sites more than doubled in 2018 vs. 2017.