prescription drug abuse

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.
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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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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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The Department of Justice recently published its list of proposed regulatory actions for the near and long term.  It appears that the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA’s) Regulatory Drafting and Support Section is going to have a busy year.  The Unified Agenda indicates several potential regulatory changes are in store for the coming year, some of which may have significant impact on the regulated community.

A few highlights:

  • Updates to the suspicious order regulation have been delayed to at least February 2019.
  • DEA will provide guidance for Emergency Medical Services wishing to handle controlled substances.
  • After more than nine years, DEA is finally implementing regulations regarding the practice of telemedicine, as required by Congress in the Ryan Haight Act.
  • Guidance is forthcoming regarding the partial filling of prescriptions for Schedule II controlled substances as a result of related provisions in the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) of 2016.
  • It appears that additional (and significant changes) will be coming to DEA’s quota process.
  • DEA is getting rid of the carbon copy 222 form! (for those too young to understand the concept of carbon copies, click here)

Below are links to each notification and a summary taken directly from the related Abstract.

Stay tuned. We will provide updates as they become available.


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Over a period of two weeks in June, the House passed several bills aimed at combating the ongoing opioid epidemic. Our summary of the earlier measures can be found here. Key points of these additional legislative initiatives are summarized below. We will continue to monitor and report on their progress.

R. 3192, CHIP Mental Health Parity Act
This bill required state Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP programs) to cover mental health benefits including substance use disorder services for pregnant women and children. It also prohibits states from imposing financial or utilization limits on mental health treatment that are lower than the limits placed on physical health treatment.

R. 3331
Specifically, this bill encourages the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation to test models to provide incentive payments to behavioral health providers for adopting electronic health records technology, and using that technology to improve the quality and coordination of care.


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On Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed a fleet of bills aimed at combating the ongoing opioid crisis, most aimed at developing preventative measures to curb opioid addiction by funding research. The measures passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. Key points of these legislative initiatives are summarized below. Quarles & Brady will continue to monitor their progress.

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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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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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Nobody would argue with the fact that there is an opioid crisis in our country – it is a demonstrable fact. However, there has recently been a significant focus on whether drug wholesalers and their business partners including lobbyists have caused people to die from overdoses, including a recent segment by 60 Minutes. While the segment sought to educate viewers on the causes of prescription drug abuse and the alleged slowdown in enforcement efforts by the government, it is of course journalism and takes a strong position against drug companies. Aided by reporters from the Washington Post and former employees from the Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”), the 60 Minutes segment, while dramatic in its presentation, only told the facts relevant to the position it was taking – which is what makes good headlines.
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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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