The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

DEA’s opioid crackdown brings arrests of prescribers, pharmacists

The DEA’s review revealed dispensers who sold disproportionately large amounts of drugs, particularly opioid painkillers, and sparked 188 investigations, Justice Department officials announced Monday. (Patrick Sison/AP)

The Drug Enforcement Administration arrested 28 drug prescribers and pharmacists, and revoked the licenses of 147 people who handle controlled substances, as part of a nationwide crackdown on the illegal use and distribution of opioids and other prescription medications, the Justice Department announced Monday.

The 45-day enforcement “surge” stemmed from a review, ordered by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, of 80 million drug transactions. The review revealed dispensers who sold disproportionately large amounts of drugs, particularly opioid painkillers, and sparked 188 investigations.

“Our efforts are just getting started,” Sessions said in a news release. “ . . . DEA will surge task force officers and more analysts to places across America where the opioid crisis is at its worst.”

It did not appear that the effort targeted any of the drug distributors or manufacturers that have been blamed for allowing hundreds of millions of ­opioid painkillers to pour out of the legitimate supply chain into the black market over the past 15 years. Under federal law, wholesale distributors — the middlemen who move drugs from manufacturers to dispensers — are required to notify the DEA when they see unusual amounts, patterns or frequency of drug ­shipments.

The Washington Post and other media outlets have reported that some companies failed to do that, allowing the pills to find their way to users and dealers and propelling the epidemic that killed nearly 64,000 people in 2016, the most recent year for which ­overdose death statistics are available.

The Post also has reported that, at the height of the crisis, the DEA slowed its enforcement efforts and saw its work undermined by a law passed by Congress. The law took away the DEA’s most potent weapon against drug companies. The Justice Department and others have called for it to be amended.

In the recent drug crackdown, authorities said the DEA issued 283 administrative actions. Those included orders that force providers to surrender their controlled substance licenses (or “registrations”), that immediately prohibit the dispensing of narcotics, and that require recipients to show at a hearing why they should not be barred from providing the drugs.

A breakdown of those actions was not immediately available.

The DEA did not respond to questions seeking further detail.

Drug industry hired dozens from DEA as agency tried to curb opioid abuse

DEA says case against McKesson ended in a whimper

DEA struggles to hold an opioid manufacturer accountable