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Drug Distributors Pressured to Reduce Narcotic Painkiller Shipments

October 19, 2012

Over the past few months, the DEA has tried a variety of different tactics to battle our painkiller epidemic.

From arresting hundreds of doctors, cracking down on pill mills, and investigating pharmacies, it’s most recent attempt has large drug distributors rattled.

The New York Times reports that after honing in on Florida and Ohio, the DEA is now putting pressure on other pharmaceutical distributors nationwide.

Earlier this year, the agency charged drug distributor Cardinal Health for violating it license to sell controlled drugs. Since then, Cardinal no longer does business with a dozen pharmacies in Arizona, California, Nevada, and Oklahoma and the number is growing.

The article notes that the pressure has pushed distributors to create a nationwide shipment reduction to pharmacies and doctors who order a high volume of narcotic pain killers.

“We had a strong anti-diversion system in place, but no system is perfect,” Cardinal Chairman and Chief Executive told the Times.

Since then, they have strengthened their criteria and  have also  created a committee that evaluates pharmacies that order large amounts of narcotic drugs.

Another major distributor, AmerisourceBergen, recently disclosed that it also faces a federal criminal inquiry into its oversight of painkiller sales.

The DEA’s crackdown on pharmacies and big distributors like Cardinal and AmericsourceBergen have shown that the agency is taking a much more aggressive approach to ending our nations painkiller issue.

However, doctors and pharmacies are critical of the way distributors have abruptly cut them off from their supply. One California pharmacist argued that his pharmacy specializes in pain patients which would explain his high volume orders.

“The drug distribution system is a sprawling one that involves about 800 companies, which range in size from a few giants like Cardinal to hundreds of small firms. For wholesalers, the markup on medications can be small, sometimes a few pennies a pill. But with billions of pills sold annually, the profits can be big. Narcotic painkillers are now the most widely prescribed drugs in the United States, with sales last year of $8.5 billion.”

There is also added incentive to sell Oxycontin and other narcotic painkiller because of their addictive properties and because street value on the black market is as much as $80 per 80-milligram dose.

However, while the DEA is implementing new tactics against distributors for failing to notify the agency of a “suspicious order” from a pharmacy or other customer, it does not share those reports with officials in the state where the pharmacy is based.

After the New York Times had asked for the agency to disclose the number of such reports it received annually, they declined saying, the agency considered such statistics “law enforcement sensitive” information.

In response, the Times has filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking that data. Read More…


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