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West Virginia AG Quietly Sued DEA Over Opioids And Scored A Major Victory


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Ethan Barton Editor in Chief
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  • West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey sued the Drug Enforcement Agency in December 
  • Morrisey hopes for three crucial changes to the DEA’s quota determination
  • More than 200,000 Americans across the nation died from prescription opioid overdoses between 1999 and 2016

Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to review how it determines the number of opioid pills allowed on the market in response to a lawsuit West Virginia filed against in the agency, the state’s attorney general announced Thursday.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey sued the DEA in December to compel the agency to change how it determines drug quotas, particularly to push the agency to decrease its reliance on pharmaceutical companies’ sales estimates.

“I direct the DEA to evaluate and consider whether or not to amend its regulations governing the aggregate production quota where appropriate as expeditiously as practicable, including through a potential interim final rule,” Sessions said in a statement Thursday.

Morrisey, a Republican, hopes for three crucial changes to the DEA’s quota determination: reducing the reliance on market demand estimates and instead seeking input from states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS); taking into account the amount of medications diverted to the black market when considering quotas; and giving state governments the ability to hold hearings to provide evidence of excess opioid supplies.

“Today, we believe we will begin seeing a major change to the failed drug supply system and federal government policies that have fueled the opioid epidemic and helped lead to the death of hundreds of thousands of Americans nationwide,” Morrisey said in a statement.

“For far too long, going back over the past decade and longer, the DEA maintained drug quota regulations that were fatal and dangerously flawed,” he continued.

West Virginia is among the hardest hit in the opioid epidemic, with 52.5 deaths per 100,000 people – more than any other state, according to Morrisey.

Additionally, pharmaceutical distributors flooded one West Virginia town with a population of less than 3,000 with nearly 21 million opioid pills.

More than 200,000 Americans across the nation died from prescription opioid overdoses between 1999 and 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, 80 percent of heroin users began their addiction with prescription opioids, a recent study shows.

The DEA’s quota system relies on the pharmaceutical industry’s estimates of how many drugs can be sold, rather than legitimate demands and need, to determine how many medications are allowed on the market, according to Morrisey.

“The DEA quota program is completely broken because it confuses market demand for dangerous narcotics with the amount of legitimate medical need,” Morrisey said. “The DEA effectively helps determine how many drugs can be manufactured based upon how many drugs pharmaceutical companies can sell.”

“This quota process resulted in the unconstrained, unvalidated, and deadly increases each year for the past decade that helped fuel the drug epidemic and helped cause senseless death,” he continued, calling the DEA’s actions “beyond reprehensible” and “deadly.”

Morrisey began trying to alter the quota system during former President Barack Obama’s presidency, but his efforts “were originally stymied, as the Obama-era DEA was clearly asleep at the switch and unwilling to recognize the fatal nature of this failed system,” the attorney general said.

He also asked the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals – where his case was filed – to put his suit on hold while the DEA finalizes any rule changes.

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