DEA Wants to Change Law on Opioid Regulation

The Drug Enforcement Administration tells Congress that a law enacted last year made it harder for the agency to show that a drug maker’s conduct poses an immediate danger of death or harm. Democrats agree, Republicans defend the measure.

The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration office that regulates pharmaceutical opioids told senators that a 2016 law has made enforcement more difficult in urgent circumstances and should be revised, the Washington Post reports. Demetra Ashley, who leads the agency’s Diversion Control Division, said Congress should choose between repealing and amending the law. Since passage of the law, Ashley said, DEA investigators have faced a greater challenge showing that a company’s conduct poses an immediate danger of death or harm to shut down shipments of painkillers from a distributor to a pharmacy. That burden has moved the agency away from its traditional posture of preventing harm, she said.

During an oversight hearing on Tuesday, Ashley told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that the agency continues to do its job, relying on tools other than the “immediate suspension orders” reserved for the most egregious cases. Those tools include forcing doctors, pharmacists and others to surrender their DEA licenses, bringing them to hearings and seeking civil penalties. Senators broke down largely along party lines about whether changes are needed. “In my view, this bill has done harm,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (CA), the committee’s top Democrat. “It seems to me that we should look very closely at repeal.” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who led negotiations over the law in the Senate, was openly skeptical of what he called a rush to “rewrite history” after reports by The Washington Post and “60 Minutes” that highlighted the legislation’s effect. “This wasn’t some effort to help drug companies kill people. Give me a break,” Hatch said. “This was an effort to ensure that DEA’s efforts . . . didn’t end up hurting legitimate patients.”