Feds Cracking Down on Opioid Prescribers and Dispensers

Healthcare professionals and pharmacies take note: If you are prescribing or dispensing what appears to be an unusual or disproportionate amount of controlled substances, there’s a good chance the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) could come knocking on your door.

The federal government recently announced that for 45 days during February and March it “surged” its enforcement and administrative resources to identify and investigate those whose prescribing and dispensing methods appeared to be out of line with what is considered the norm.

According to a news release, the DEA analyzed 80 million transaction reports from DEA-registered manufacturers and distributors, as well as reports submitted on suspicious orders and drug thefts and information shared by federal partners, such as the Department of Health and Human Services. This resulted in the development of 366 leads to DEA field offices, 188 of which (51 percent) resulted in active investigations by DEA’s 22 field divisions.

That investigation resulted in the arrest of 28 individuals along with 54 other enforcement actions that included search warrants and administrative search warrants, along with 283 “administrative actions of other types,” which included: scheduled inspections, letters of admonition, memoranda of agreement/understanding, surrenders for cause of DEA registrations, orders to show cause, and immediate suspension orders for 147 prescribers.

The efforts are in response to the opioid epidemic and are just getting started, according to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. DEA’s acting administrator said the agency will “use every criminal, civil and regulatory tool possible,” to target the illegal prescribing and distribution of controlled substances.

It was the second such nationwide action in recent weeks. The Federal Bureau of Investigation also announced the results of a four-day-long enforcement operation it dubbed “Operation Disarray.” The 50-state effort targeted those who use the dark web to buy and sell illegal opiates and cocaine.

During the March 27 to 30 operation, FBI, USPIS, and local law enforcement made eight arrests and conducted more than 160 interviews nationwide of people who have bought or sold opioids and other drugs online.

Healthcare professionals – physicians and pharmacists – would be well advised to set up due diligence policies to ensure that they do not become the target of a DEA investigation. Although there are some healthcare professionals who knowingly violate the law, others may become the unwitting victims of diversion tactics by those looking to obtain controlled substances for other than legitimate medical purposes.

A good starting point is to check the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, which in Florida is known as E-FORCSE® (Electronic-Florida Online Reporting of Controlled Substance Evaluation Program). As we recently wrote about, Florida’s newly passed opioid legislation now requires physicians or staff members to check with the database before prescribing or dispensing controlled substances.

Signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, the legislation takes effect on July 1 and also mandates that most initial prescriptions would have a limit of three days for Schedule II painkillers such as Oxycontin and Fentanyl.  Prior to these requirements, physicians had more leeway in how many pills to dispense.

Red flags for pharmacists include filling multiple prescriptions, requests for early refills, and filling prescriptions from doctors who are located hundreds of miles away, among others.

Anyone with a DEA registration is fair game for an inspection from the DEA, which can be scheduled or a surprise. It’s important that you know your rights.

The Health Law Offices of Anthony C. Vitale can assist clients in recognizing the red flags of diversion and represent your interests should you become the target of a DEA investigation.

Material presented on the Health Law Offices of Anthony C. Vitale's website is intended for information purposes only.

It is not intended as professional advice and should not be construed as such.