DEA official blames pharmacists, doctors for pain-med denials


A DEA spokesman said the agency is not trying to limit access to opioid painkillers.

Following the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s recent crackdown on unscrupulous doctors and questionable pharmacy practices, many patients have complained of increasing difficulty filling legitimate opioid prescriptions.

But a DEA spokesman said the agency is not trying to limit access to opioid painkillers. And if legitimate pain medication prescriptions are not being written or filled, it’s the fault of doctors and pharmacists, not the government.

“We’re not doctors. We’re regulators and enforcers of the law. If something is prescribed for a legitimate medical purpose, we’re certainly not going to get in the way,” DEA spokesman Rusty Payne told the National Pain Report. “If a pharmacy chooses not to fill a prescription for someone, that’s their decision. It’s not the DEA’s decision,” he said.


In recent years, DEA has cracked down on both so-called “pill-mill doctors” suspected of writing questionable scripts for opioids and other pain medications that are diverted for illegal purposes and pharmacies and distributors profiting by filling the unnecessary prescriptions.

Cardinal Health, for example, in 2012 was fined $34 million for failing to report suspicious hydrocodone orders. And both Walgreens and CVS have been fined millions for violating federal rules for dispensing controlled substances.

As a result Walgreens and other pharmacies have established stricter rules for dispensing controlled substances. That has lead to many complaints. CVS went a step further, banning suspected pill-mill doctors who wrote a disproportionately high number of pain medication scripts.

The patient complaints and pharmacists’ telephone calls to doctors to verify pain-medication prescriptions raised the ire of the American Medical Association, which passed a strongly worded resolution condemning what it called unwarranted interference from pharmacies. And groups such as the National Community Pharmacists Association are now complaining about delays in getting shipments of opioids and other pain medications.

But Payne said DEA is not at fault. “There have been no new regulations. There have been no rule changes. There have been no changes in the Controlled Substances Act,” he reportedly said. “People will call us and they’ll say, ‘I can’t get my meds. And the pharmacy tells me that it’s your fault.’ It’s always popular to blame the government for something.”

Both pharmacies and doctors are paying more attention to pain medication prescriptions, but Payne hinted that some may have gone too far. “Folks tend to overcorrect the other way to the point where it becomes a chilling effect and no one wants to do anything because they’re afraid [DEA will] be hiding out in the bushes,” he said.

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