Oct. 1 (UPI) -- A report Tuesday by the Justice Department's inspector general said the Drug Enforcement Administration facilitated the U.S. opioid crisis for more than a decade by substantially increasing production quotas for narcotic painkillers.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz said the DEA hiked quotas for oxycodone, one of the most widely used painkillers, by 400 percent between 2002 and 2013 -- flooding the pharmaceutical market with additional drugs that otherwise would not have been produced.
The DEA is the chief federal agency responsible for setting production quotas and investigating related illicit activity.
"The rate of opioid overdose deaths in the United States grew, on average, by 8 percent per year from 1999 through 2013 and by 71 percent per year from 2013 through 2017," Horowitz's office said. "Yet, from 2003 through 2013 DEA was authorizing manufacturers to produce substantially larger amounts of opioids."
Since 2000, there have been more than 300,000 opioid-related deaths in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Trump administration declared opioids a national health emergency in 2017.
"Unlike past drug crises, in combating the current opioid epidemic DEA failed to develop a comprehensive national strategy that could have focused and directed its regulatory enforcement efforts," the report said.
The report said the DEA failed to assess which opioid pharmacies required extra scrutiny for overprescribing.
"DEA has not taken steps to revise its regulations and require all prescribers to submit prescriptions electronically," it said.
The report identified other areas in which the DEA could have been more efficient in regulating the crisis.
"First, DEA's preregistration process did not adequately vet all new applicants," it states. "Second, we found that DEA has regulations that fail to assess the suitability of potential new registrants, which may prevent DEA from identifying registrants whose applications merit heightened scrutiny.
"Third, while electronic prescriptions can prevent prescription fraud in many instances, DEA has not taken steps to revise its regulations and require all prescribers to submit prescriptions electronically. Fourth, stringent DEA headquarters requirements for field divisions to complete their headquarters-assigned diversion control work plans left little room for targeting registrants suspected of diversion. Finally, beginning in 2013, DEA rarely used its strongest enforcement tool, the Immediate Suspension Order, to stop registrants from diverting prescription drugs [to the black market]."
The report recommended new national prescription restrictions, background checks for all pharmacies that sell opioids and a requirement that suspicious orders be reported and sent to the DEA.