It appears that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is on the cusp of publishing a new regulation in the next few weeks, with two more to follow in the coming months.  This is based on notifications received by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the government’s final review authority for Executive Branch regulations.

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:

Note: The following is my best guess for what to expect in the coming year regarding controlled substance compliance obligations.  I have relied on publicly available information, my experience and expertise with all things involving pharmaceutical controlled substance, and a Magic 8 Ball in creating the list below.

Suspicious Orders

This is the year (I think) that DEA will publish a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) updating 1301.74(b).  While industry is anxiously awaiting the new regulations, I fear that many will be disappointed.  My best guess is that the new regulations will be more about changing the process for reporting suspicious orders and less about guidance for industry on the metrics to use for detecting suspicious orders.  This is in part because Congress recently codified the existing definition of suspicious orders that has been in DEA’s regulations for decades, which takes away a great deal of DEA’s interpretative authority and discretion.  There is also an argument to be made that DEA would prefer suspicious order guidance and definitions to be vague, providing the agency significant enforcement discretion.

Is “Suspicious Order” about to be defined?

The recently-released DOJ OIG Review of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Regulatory and Enforcement Efforts to Control the Diversion of Opioids has met with extensive media coverage focused on the sexier aspects of the story. What did DEA do or not do to stem the opioids crisis? What internal battles may have led DEA to drop the ball in some aspects of the response? These are important questions, but they have been well-covered.

Instead, we are going to focus on a handful of the nine recommendations (listed below) made by the IG and DEA’s and ODAG’s responses.

Quota Reductions

DEA is out with its proposed 2020 aggregate production quotas for Schedule I and II controlled substances, and they have been reduced dramatically from 2019’s numbers. From the press release:

DEA proposes to reduce the amount of fentanyl produced by 31 percent, hydrocodone by 19 percent, hydromorphone by 25 percent, oxycodone by nine percent and oxymorphone by 55 percent. Combined with morphine, the proposed quota would be a 53 percent decrease in the amount of allowable production of these opioids since 2016.”

How’d They Get There?

Why the size of the decrease? Aside from the obvious political pressures attendant to legitimate concern over the proliferation of the opioid crisis and, perhaps, some less-legitimate political posturing, the DEA cites the usual factors and a significant new one. As always, DEA consults “many sources, including estimates of the legitimate medical need from the Food and Drug Administration; estimates of retail consumption based on prescriptions dispensed; manufacturer’s disposition history and forecasts; data from DEA’s internal system for tracking controlled substance transactions; and past quota histories.”

Last week was an active week when it comes to marijuana policy. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced that it will begin considering (and approving?) applications to allow for the manufacture (growing) of marijuana for research purposes. Shortly thereafter, United States Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Jerome M. Adams (Dr. Adams), issued an advisory regarding the significant adverse effects of marijuana use by adolescents and by women during pregnancy. Both developments could foreshadow the long road ahead for marijuana legalization advocates seeking DEA’s removal of marijuana from its listing as a schedule I controlled substance.

Just as there are several factors that contributed to the opioid epidemic, there are a myriad of solutions that, in tandem, will make a difference in the lives of those impacted by opioid abuse and may prevent others from misusing and abusing these drugs. Roger Krone and his team at Leidos are executing a program that should be emulated by companies across the United States.

After receiving an email from an employee whose son recently lost his life to a drug overdose, Leidos CEO Roger Krone directed the creation of a corporate responsibility program focusing on drug abuse awareness, prevention, and treatment. The CEO Pledge was born from this initiative.

On July 23, 2019, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the issuance of a Warning Letter to the manufacturer of certain products containing cannabidiol (CBD). Specifically, the FDA provided a laundry list of examples where Curaleaf, Inc. (Curaleaf) made unsubstantiated claims on its website and on social media “that the products treat cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, opioid withdrawal, pain and pet anxiety, among other conditions or diseases.” The FDA considers Curaleaf’s actions as the “illegal selling of unapproved products,” pursuant to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.