Bottles of prescription painkiller OxyContin pills. (George Frey/Reuters)

The federal agency responsible for enforcing our nation’s drug laws, the Drug Enforcement Administration, was the very agency that gave express authorization to Big Pharma to manufacture 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pain pills from 2006 through 2012.

Every year, the DEA establishes production quotas for opioids. Over a period of 20 years, the DEA provided the green light to a 39-fold increase in the oxycodone quota and a 12-fold increase in the hydrocodone quota, even as our opioid epidemic unfolded.

I have pressed the DEA hard on this issue: How can it approve these ever-increasing quotas and then wonder why our opioid epidemic is so bad?

The Senate recently passed bipartisan legislation that I introduced with Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) calling on the DEA to set common-sense production levels by considering the public-health consequences. 

Since I first engaged on the issue in 2016, the DEA’s opioid quotas have been reduced by 46 percent. Opioid doses on the market declined from 17 billion in 2011 to 12.6 billion in 2017 — still enough opioid doses to provide every adult in the United States a three-week prescription.

That may be progress, but it’s not enough. The DEA soon will propose its 2020 quotas, and I will be monitoring them closely to rein in Big Pharma’s insatiable demand for more opioid production.

If this administration really wants to do everything in its power to stop this opioid epidemic, it should stop the DEA approval of Big Pharma’s overproduction of billions of these addictive pills every year.

Dick Durbin, Washington

The writer, a Democrat, represents Illinois
in the Senate.

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I am a mother who has experienced firsthand the devastating effects of the opioid epidemic described in the July 17 front-page article “An epidemic unmasked,” which revealed previously undisclosed Drug Enforcement Administration data that shows in graphic detail the rampant, deadly national crisis.

Why was the public release of the DEA’s Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System (ARCOS) database vigorously protested by the drug companies (understandably) and the DEA and the Justice Department? How could so many drug companies and their senior executives responsible for flooding the nation with opioids, and innumerable managers of warehouses and pharmacies responsible for ordering and receiving these blatantly large shipments of narcotics, continue to conduct their business even after paying fines and making false promises to curtail suspicious sales? What efforts are being made to identify and hold accountable the unscrupulous clinics, doctors, distributors and ancillary services that are equally responsible for the widespread nature of the epidemic? Who is protecting our loved ones and our families from further harm?

The data from 2006 to 2012 is linked to some 100,000 deaths, but the death toll is only one indicator of the scope of the crisis. Newer data from 2012 to the present is called for. The opioid epidemic is directly or indirectly impacting millions of lives: addicted people, those in rehab and recovery, their families and loved ones, and local, state and federal governments. Those responsible for the spread of this horrific epidemic must be held accountable. And those affected by their actions require our compassionate support.

Maureen Golden, McLean

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