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Battling The Opioid Crisis: Inside the DEA’s operations

NOTE: For complete coverage on “Battling The Opioid Crisis” from ABC 17 News, click here.

In November of 2016, ABC 17 News interviewed a woman who wished to stay annonymous.
She died about a month ago after she overdosed.
Now, ABC 17 is speaking with the Drug Enforcement Agency, otherwise known as the DEA, on what they’re doing to help stop the opioid epidemic.

“Certainly, the opioid epidemic has gotten worse. It has our attention. It’s had our attention for quite some time,” said Assistant Special Agent Troy Derby.
Scott Collier also works for the DEA. “Prescription drug abuse is by far the second most prevalent drug problem in the United States. It far out paces heroin addiction.”

Derby told ABC 17 News they’ve had an adjustment period for about ten years, as far as the agencies way of thinking around the epidemic.

“We’ve realized we can’t arrest our way out of this problem,” Derby said.

The DEA has now adopted a three-pronged approach to battling the epidemic.

First, it says the community has to get on board and everyone needs to realize this is a health issue.
Secondly, Drug take back events, like the one held nationwide in late October are proven to work, by getting unwatned and unused pills out of people’s homes. Lastly, people who need help have to be encouraged to seek it without the fear of being judged.

There’s a quota system in the U.S. and DEA is required each year to set what they refer to as ‘production quota’.

Collier said, “One of the things DEA is required to do by statute is to ensure that the United States has an adequate supply of drugs to meet our medical, scientific and research needs.”

However, since 2012 they’ve been steadily reducing the ceiling tremendously.

“Every year since then for the major narcotics, we’ve been reducing it roughly by 20% a year. For 2018 we’ve proposed quota that for certain drugs pushes back the volume to what we’re seeing in 2007 or 2008,” Collier said.

The DEA sets production on all sorts of narcotics. They talk to various agencies to collaborate how much of each drug should be made to serve the public. ABC 17 News pulled the data from the DEA’s website and it show’s a wild swing on the changing perceptions of pain management in the medical community.

Take Fentanyl for instance, one of the most powerful and addictive painkillers out there. It’s used to treat people who are terminally ill, or those who have had limbs amputated.

A chart on the DEA’s website shows it spiked 50% from 2012 to 2013 and topped out at 2,300 kilograms last year. This was before it was slashed 25% from this year.

In 2017, 1,750 kilograms were made. The same goes for narcotics like oxycodone and hydrocodone, which were both cut by 40% thsi year from high’s just 4 years ago.

Regardless of the fact the DEA is steadily dropping the amount of pills being legally manufactuered, there’s still the issue of getting synthetically made opioids from China and Mexico.

Regarding the drug cartels and how they operate Derby said, “They are selling death and they don’t care because they know 5 minutes down the road another drug dealer might rip them off and kill them. They really have no conscience. They just don’t care and that’s kind of where we’re at.”

There’s two divisions in DEA. The more obvious is the enforcement side, but the Diversion Division works a bit differently.

Scott Collier is the Diversion Program Manager. “The Diversion Control Division within DEA simply put is kind of the white collar drug squad.”

Collier’s division focuses on preventing and interdicting legitimately manufactuered controlled pharmacuticals, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone from getting to the black market.

Diversion has had a keen eye on the abuse of pharma pills since the year 2000. This can be anything from a doctor to a pharmacist selling the drugs on the street.

“They simply have a room and they sell prescriptions for no valid medical purpose, but they charge anywhere from $300 to $500 dollars a pop just for the visit,” said Collier. “The first case I ever had was a pyschatrist who simply set up a room where he would bring in 6, 7 or 8 people at a time and go down the row and said what’s your name and what do you want?”

Those are the types of people the Diversion Control Division target. It’s a preventative measure to try and stop the pills from ever getting to the street.

Derby regers to Fentanyl as the deadliest drug to come to the U.S. It’s now being synthetically made, similar to how K-2 marijuana is made and then brought into the United States illegally.

ABC 17 News asked Collier if he thought there was a way the spiraling epidemic could be stopped. “If I didn’t think we couldn’t make significant progress to reduce this problem I wouldn’t be here.”

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