The Drug Enforcement Administration has ordered manufacturers to cut production of opiate and opioid medication by 25 percent or more in 2017, citing falling demand. Some medicines, like hydrocodone, will be cut as much as 34 percent.
The agency said demand for the opioid medicines, represented as prescriptions written by DEA-registered practitioners, had decreased, according to sales data from IMS Health, and amid growing concern over the abuse of prescription painkillers.
The DEA regulates the total amount of a controlled drug that can be produced each year, necessary to meet the estimated medical, scientific, research, industrial, and export needs, and for the maintenance of reserve stocks. The cuts affect Schedule II drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, hydromorphone and morphine.
The cuts are mostly being made to the reserve stock supplies, as the DEA allowed more production of opioids than usual from 2013 to 2016, adding a 25 percent “buffer” to prevent shortages.
The cuts come as more people died from drug overdoses in 2014 than in any year on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than six out of 10 of these overdoses involved an opioid. Synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which the singer Prince overdosed on in April, are also killing a skyrocketing number of people.
“The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health released last month found 6.5 million Americans over the age of 12 used controlled prescription medicines non-medically during the past month,” said the DEA in its release. That’s “second only to marijuana and more than past-month users of cocaine, heroin, and hallucinogens combined.”
In 2012, lawmakers received reports of a “crisis of epidemic proportions” that was wreaking havoc on 40 percent of Americans: chronic pain. Some researchers doubt the validity of the study that claimed that more than 100 million Americans suffered from the condition. The study made no mention of the rising numbers of overdoses from OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet that had quadrupled from 1999 until 2012.
Policymakers have been trying to contain the problem.
In 2011, Florida Governor Rick Scott started cracking down on pain-management clinics that were suspected of dispensing too many opioids. Prescription-drug overdoses dropped within the first year. But heroin deaths rose 39 percent, as people who were cut off from their legal pain medication turned to the illegal drug.
Back in March of this year, the CDC released guidelines for doctors who prescribe opioids for chronic pain. These provided strategies for figuring out dosing, as well as assessing risk. Several states have passed measures that limit the use of opioid prescriptions.
In March, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker approved legislation that limits first-time opioid prescriptions to seven days’ worth of pills.
In June, the DEA said heroin use in the US had tripled from 2007 to 2014, leading to an expanding health crisis, according to a new report. The DEA’s findings also showed deaths involving the opioid tripling in recent years, while deaths due to synthetics were also on the rise. In addition to the tripling of heroin use from 2007 to 2014, deaths involving heroin increased at about the same rate from 2010 to 2014, from 3,036 to 10,574.
“We tend to overuse words such as ‘unprecedented’ and ‘horrific,’ but the death and destruction connected to heroin and opioids is indeed unprecedented and horrific,” said DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg in a statement. “The problem is enormous and growing, and all of our citizens need to wake up to these facts.”
What is different about the current epidemic is its location in suburban areas and outlying counties rather than the inner cities as was the case in 1970s and 1980s. Also different is the purity and price of heroin. In 1981, the average retail-level purity of heroin was 10 percent; by 1999, the purity had increased to an average of 40 percent. In 1981, the average price per gram was $3,260, and by 1999, the price had decreased to $622.
The DEA has been criticized for being too lax in regulating the drugs. Senator Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) pointed out at a hearing in June that, in 2014, the agency approved enough opioid pills to be manufactured “for every adult in America to have a one-month prescription.”
In response, Chuck Rosenberg acknowledged, “I think we’re part of the problem.”
Scores of scientists and consumers of an herbal remedy used to produce mild, opioid-like painkilling effects, are incensed that the Obama administration is set to add it to a list of Schedule I drugs that are considered by the government to be the most dangerous.
As reported by the Seattle Times, the DEA is set to add kratom – a plant from Southeast Asia with large, green leaves that are dried, powered, and ingested – to the same list where much more potent opioids like heroin are listed. Marijuana – nowhere nearly as dangerous or potent as heroin – was also recently reclassified to the list by the agency, a confusing signal from an administration that has refused to sue states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use though it remains against federal law.
Kratom has been used for generations in Asia, usually brewed into a tea as a tonic or chewed directly, as a painkiller, for those weaning themselves off of opioids. Here in the US it can be found in smoke shops around the country and can be purchased in powder or capsule form.
'This is a disservice to science'
But now, likely in deference to Big Pharma, Obama's DEA is set to classify the substance as, under federal policy, something that has "no currently acceptable medical use" ('acceptable' to whom has always meant the federal government). The classification will instantly make kratom illegal to possess or sell, while making it more restricted that oxycodone or even cocaine.
DEA officials say that the classification is necessary because bureaucrats have deemed it an "imminent hazard to the public safety," Special Agent Jodie Underwood told the Times.
Except that it's not. The announcement is confounding experts and bringing much angst to scientists who have studied the compound's effects as well as its potential medical benefits. It seems that even members of Congress are showing interest in the topic: 50 representatives from the House – 28 Democrats and 23 Republicans – have signed a letter to the agency arguing that its "hasty decision" to schedule kratom "will put a halt on federally funded research and innovation surrounding the treatment of individuals suffering from opioid and other addictions – a significant public-health threat."
When all is said and done, said Christopher McCurdy, chairman of Biomolecular Sciences at the University of Mississippi, "this is a disservice to science." His department has been at the helm of research into kratom as an opioid-free painkiller and herbal alternative to suboxone and methadone. Ole Miss is also the only university that has has had a contract with the DEA to cultivate marijuana for medical research.
Only our government would do this during a declared 'opioid epidemic'
McCurdy said that he doesn't believe that adding kratom to Schedule 1 is the right thing to do, at least not yet, because "we don't have the science yet to speak to potential medical benefits – and we think there are medical benefits."
After having studied the compound for more than a decade, McCurdy said the DEA's classification will add several more layers of bureaucracy just to get access to the plant, which will include greater security, tough-to-obtain federal licensing, special safes and in-person, scheduled visits from DEA agents who will have to ensure that the kratom obtained by the university is being kept properly and not abused.
After hearing about the DEA's plans, McCurdy said his team began "frantically" trying to prepare their latest research and get it into literature, perhaps hoping it will at least provide an impetus to have the DEA's decision rescinded at some point later on.
But for now, anyway, the substance is on its way to becoming unavailable to those who need it most and, stupidly at a time when the federal government itself has declared prescription opioid abuse "an epidemic."
In a stunning reversal, the DEA has withdrawn its proposal to ban kratom and temporarily suspended efforts to make it a Schedule 1 drug. The move comes after an impassioned Internet-based protest by a decentralized network of advocates and activists who contend the southeast Asian plant has tremendous medicinal value. While not a permanent ruling, the reversal is extremely unusual for the government agency, which is known for aggressive enforcement of its drug policies.
DEA spokesperson Melvin Patterson confirmed that the intense public reaction fueled the decision. “That was eye-opening for me personally,” he said.“I want the kratom community to know that the DEA does hear them. Our goal is to make sure this is available to all of them.”
The suspension will allow for an extended timetable for public feedback and further analysis. This will include an evaluation of mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A small team of government scientists will now determine whether Americans are allowed to use a curative herbal remedy that has been safely ingested for thousands of years.
The August announcement of the ban came as a shock to many. As Anti-Media previously reported, communities around the country responded forcefully through social media groups and online publications. The American Kratom Association launched a National Call To Action. Patients and researchers testified that kratom helps to curb opioid addiction and withdrawal. U.S. lawmakers, including 51 representatives and nine senators, applied additional pressure, aware the move coincided with a heroin and prescription painkiller epidemic that has already claimed thousands of lives. The ban struck a nerve deep within an American public already incensed over decades of the drug war.
Researcher John Hudak of the Brookings Institute says the withdrawal is “shocking.”
The DEA is not one to second-guess itself, no matter what the facts are.
Nevertheless, DEA administrator Chuck Rosenberg has filed an intent to withdraw notice with the Department of Justice.
News of the temporary ban came as a great relief to kratom users, who would have been risking prison time at the start of October. Kratom vendors expressed cautious optimism. Sara Killbride-Johnson, of Happy High Herbs in Ocean Beach, California, told Anti-Media:
I’m really excited that people can see they still have power and are not the children of some separate entity government. I’m glad there will be a discourse, and I’m glad the scientific community has been speaking up, and I feel pretty hopeful about how it will turn out (I’m looking forward to a similar honesty happening with vaping now too).
Sara also expressed a healthy dose of skepticism and concern:
We have to be very cognizant that it was most likely a purposeful (Schedule 1) grouping as a sly way to eliminate competition to Big Pharma and wipe out small non-corporate businesses… I’m psyched, but the December deadline means they could still just ban it after the first. If they made a mistake and ‘kratom’ is not what they thought it was, why not take it off the table entirely?
Despite warnings like this, Facebook groups are already full of tearful and celebratory commenters. There are even notes of flamboyant defiance. A member of the American Kratom Association Facebook group, Eric Mothman, wrote:
[The DEA] underestimated this clan! What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong. Trying to take Kratom away was wrong. One good thing came from this [is that] hundreds of thousands saw first hand the corruption that is waged upon the people and that the Gov [sic] is not really separate from big corporations! This is a catalyst to an awakening.
Is this a signal of a transformational shift in public consciousness? Is the kratom war tapping into the ‘zeitgeist’? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. As Sara noted, the DEA could still ban it. The question now is how the FDA’s scientific analysis will translate into legal terms. The debate could drag on for years. Regardless, the public reaction to the kratom ban is a powerful example of how citizens can mobilize against oppressive government policy.
This article (DEA Reverses Kratom Ban in Stunning Victory Against the War on Drugs) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Jake Anderson and theAntiMedia.org. Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11pm Eastern/8pm Pacific. If you spot a typo, email email@example.com.