NCPA commends congressional request for 'clarification' regarding DEA controlled substance enforcement

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The National Community Pharmacists Association on Thursday commended a bipartisan group of 13 U.S. representatives for a letter they jointly sent to the Drug Enforcement Administration requesting “clarification, guidance and collaboration,” and suggesting that the federal agency’s efforts in addressing supply chain issues of controlled substances across Florida-based distribution centers and pharmacies may be inadvertently preventing patients from accessing certain prescription drugs for which they have legitimate medical needs and prescriptions. 

“Many small-pharmacy owners have had difficulties in obtaining certain controlled substances because the supply from wholesalers has been severely limited or shut off," the lawmakers observed. "ln some cases, pharmacies located near hospitals, pain clinics or facilities that serve cancer patients have had difficulties in adequately serving the prescription drug needs of their high-risk, high-need patients. This is especially concerning considering that many of these small pharmacies serve patients in areas where an alternative source for the medications is limited or nonexistent.”

The lawmakers added, “We are concerned that inconsistent interpretation and application of DEA policies, and a lack of clear guidance and communication from DEA to supply chain stakeholders, are leading to patient care issues and supply chain disruption. We are interested in better understanding how these policies are being communicated and whether DEA is monitoring their application.”

“Independent community pharmacists appreciate the leadership of these lawmakers, and we share their concern for patients and the pharmacists who care for them,” stated NCPA CEO Douglas Hoey. “Make no mistake, NCPA and its members agree with Congress, DEA and others regarding the need to appropriately reprimand and prosecute anyone who is knowingly feeding the nation’s prescription drug abuse epidemic. At the same time, the right balance must be achieved so that patients in pain with legitimate health needs have access to the drugs their doctors prescribe," he said. 

NCPA staff is increasingly hearing from members about the challenges pharmacy staff and patients are experiencing when pharmaceutical wholesalers abruptly cut off medication supplies, presumably out of fear of the DEA or other law enforcement. “Part of the problem could be mixed messages out of the DEA to the pharmaceutical supply chain, leading wholesalers to constrict their supply of controlled substances," Hoey suggested. "Unfortunately, independent community pharmacists can only speculate about the causes, because no one — neither DEA, nor wholesalers — are effectively communicating with them. So pharmacists are left in the dark while some patients in pain are left in need.” 

The letter was signed by U.S. Reps. Mark Amodei, R-Nev.; Lou Barletta, R-Pa.; Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.; Judy Chu, D-Calif.; Howard Coble, R-N.C.; Jim Gerlach, R-Pa.; Tom Marino, R-Pa.; Pat Meehan, R-Pa.; Richard Nugent, R-Fla.; Ted Poe, R-Texas; Dennis Ross, D-Ark.; Lee Terry, R-Neb.; and Peter Welch, D-Vt.