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DEA Protecting Lives or Big Pharma Profits?

November 14, 2017

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is stepping up its efforts to protect Big Pharma profits from currently legal imported fentanyl analogues.

A fentanyl analogue is a structural variant of fentanyl that is molecularly different enough to not be classified as fentanyl and therefore is not technically illegal under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).  To address the issue, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) intends to temporarily classify all fentanyl-related substances as illegal on an emergency basis.  

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but is 50-100 times more potent than morphine. It can be absorbed through the skin and as little as 0.25 milligrams, equal to a few grains of salt, can be lethal.

In 2016 more than 64,000 people died in the U.S. from drug overdose and most of those were from fentanyl. Fentanyl deaths have increased by 540% in the last three years.

The global legal market for opiods is a massive $34 billion and growing rapidly as the drug industry gains power and more people become addicted.

When the DEA’s order takes effect, anyone who possesses, imports, distributes, or manufactures any illicit fentanyl analogue will be subject to criminal prosecution in the same manner as for fentanyl and other controlled substances.

The bulk of illicit but legal fentanyls arrive in the United States through the mail or express shipping systems, or are imported into the United States across the southwest border. Overseas chemical manufacturers, aided by domestic distributors, have been able to often evade regulatory controls by creating structural variants of fentanyl that are not directly listed under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).  This eats into the legal and illegal sales of opiods by the American pharmaceutical industry.

The temporary scheduling will go into effect no earlier than 30 days after the DEA publishes its notice of intent and will last up to two years, with a possibility of a one-year extension if certain conditions are met.

The new restriction will make it harder for those addicted to opiods to get a cheaper fix and drive them to seek more expensive drugs from domestic suppliers. This means an increase in petty and violent drug crime and it means higher profits for the pharmaceutical industry.

The largest U.S. distributors of opiods are McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen and their illicit distribution of opiods is protected by a new law created by the pharmaceutical industry to hinder the DEA's ability to stop the illicit distribution of pharmaceutical opiods.

According to a draft 115-page article by  DEA Chief Administrative Law Judge John J. Mulrooney II, "At a time when, by all accounts, opioid abuse, addiction and deaths were increasing markedly” the new law “imposed a dramatic diminution of the agency’s authority.” He futher claims that it is now “all but logically impossible” for the DEA to shut down a drug company's illegal distribution of opiods.

Internationally, the largest manufacturers of opiods include Pfizer Inc., Purdue Pharma, Boehringer Ingelheim, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Actavis Plc., Sanofi, Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Egalet.

The legal drugs are distributed through doctors, pharmacies and 'pain clinics' at grossly inflated prices. Some of these then sell to street dealers who mark up the drugs further for those who are unable to obtain a prescription.

Doctors are encouraged to exercise caution when prescribing opiods and know that most patients will become addicted and that the addiction is so strong that addicts won't have a chance of beating it without an expensive in-patient addiction treatment program. However, Doctors are also rewarded by the drug industry for prescribing opiods.

According to some researchers, the U.S. DEA was originally created by Richard Nixon to protect the profits of CIA backed drug trafficking by targeting competing drug gangs. From the 1970s to 1990s the DEA did just that. It targeted only those not under the protection of the CIA and the CIA generated billions of dollars in illicit funds that it could use for illegal black projects. As the cocaine market waned and the CIA got into more lucrative schemes, its drug trade became less important and it allowed Big Pharma to get in on the action with legal opiods distributed illegally on a massive scale. 

Well meaning DEA agents were able to actually go after the bad guys and save lives until the industry simply paid Congress to pass a bill protecting its illicit drug trade.  This was exposed first by the Washington Post and featured on the TV series, 60 Minutes.