In a decision issued on October 30, Judge Joseph Goodwin of the Southern District of West Virginia dissolved an Order of Immediate Suspension of Registration (“ISO”) issued by DEA against Oak Hill Hometown Pharmacy, a West Virginia pharmacy. Without getting too far into the factual weeds of this case, I do think there are two or three critical takeaways related to both the adjudication of this matter and to DEA’s view of Subutex vs. Suboxone.
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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.
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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.”


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As you undoubtedly should know by now, on April 22, 2019, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York entered into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (the “Agreement”) with the Rochester Drug Co-operative, Inc. (“RDC”).

Specifically, the government announced that

“RDC agreed to accept responsibility for its conduct by making admissions and stipulating to the accuracy of an extensive Statement of Facts, pay a $20 million penalty, reform and enhance its Controlled Substances Act compliance program, and submit to supervision by an independent monitor.”


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After a brief hiatus, DEA Chronicles is back. As always, I will be keeping you informed on changes in the relevant laws and regulations and how these may impact your business. But, as regular readers know, we go beyond simple reporting. DEA Chronicles identifies DEA enforcement trends. We engage in policy analysis across the spectrum of issues involving controlled substances. What regulatory approaches best combine an effective strategy for combating diversion with a workable framework for the various actors in the pharmaceutical industry? What are the best practices designed to ensure compliance? What are the red flags that should alert companies to potential problems within their organizations? We explore these and all other questions regarding the enforcement of controlled substance laws and regulations.

Cote Law PLLC

So why the hiatus? The answer is simple and, for me at least, kind of exciting. After six and a half years with Quarles & Brady, I am pleased to announce that I have moved the DEA Litigation and Compliance practice to my new firm, Cote Law PLLC. I bring to my DEA practice a unique set of experience and skills. For one, I worked at DEA at a management level in the enforcement area. I know my way around the agency. I know how it operates and how it thinks. It is one thing to read a statute or a regulation. It is another to understand how the people at the agency approach the enforcement of these laws. 


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On April 19, 2018, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) proposing various changes to DEA’s process for setting Aggregate Production Quotas (APQ) and Individual Procurement Quotas (IPQ). Here are some of the more significant “changes” proposed in the NPRM:

Aggregate Production Quotas

  • DEA must consider the diversion of a particular class of drugs when setting APQ;
  • DEA must also consider information from HHS, FDA, CDC, CMA, and state information when setting APQ;
  • DEA must consider diversion as one of the factors for adjusting APQ;
  • Allows for a hearing, if requested, and necessary to resolve issues related to a state’s objection to changes in APQ.


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The DEA issued a short press release yesterday that, at first glance, appeared to deliver on something that wholesale drug distributors have been seeking for years—access to ARCOS data so that wholesalers can see the total number of controlled substances a customer is ordering.* Despite the sensational headline, the new DEA tool is underwhelming and misses the mark because it will only tell a wholesaler how many other wholesalers a prospective customer has purchased a controlled substance from in the past six months. Unfortunately, this tool will provide little to no usefulness to distributors in identifying suspicious orders.
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Dear President Trump,

For several years the prescription drug epidemic has ravaged communities across the United States. During that time, the Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) has aggressively pursued enforcement actions against the regulated industry. Despite admirable efforts to curtail the epidemic through enforcement actions, prescription drug abuse continues to be a public health crisis. There have been many solutions put forth in the past several months. These solutions, while well-intended, failed to address the root causes of the epidemic – overprescribing of controlled substances. Mr. President, this is a unique opportunity for you to reset our approach to this crisis. As a first step, we need to reassess the enforcement-first approach of the past several years.
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The West Virginia Board of Pharmacy (“Board”) rolled out a new mandatory suspicious order reporting form for wholesalers at its board meeting last month.  The one-page form is designed to be filled out for each individual suspicious order being reported. This will require wholesalers that currently create and submit automated suspicious order reports to adapt their reporting for West Virginia.
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