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Senators Shaheen, Hassan Applaud DEA for Lowering Opioid Quota for Second Year in a Row

WASHINGTON – Today, Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan applauded the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) proposal to reduce production quotas for nearly all Schedule II prescription opioids by 20 percent for next year.

Last week, Senators Shaheen and Hassan – along with four other Senators – met with Chuck Rosenberg, Acting Administrator at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and urged him to reduce the number of opioid pills allowed to be manufactured and sold in the United States in 2018.  In July, the senators joined their colleagues in urging the DEA to better prevent painkillers from flooding the market by setting lower opioid production quotas for 2018. The senators also pressed the agency to improve transparency in its quota-setting process by providing an explanation of how it reaches a determination and publishing quotas granted to individual manufacturers of schedule II opioids.

“This is a step in the right direction. There’s no question that there should be fewer opioid painkillers distributed and produced, and I’m very pleased that the DEA has further lowered the annual quota,” said Senator Shaheen. “We must combat this epidemic on all fronts which is why I’ll continue to urge the DEA to use every means at its disposal.” 

“The heroin, fentanyl, and opioid crisis that is devastating communities across New Hampshire and America stems in large part from the overuse and misuse of prescription opioids, and reducing the number of opioid pills that flood the market in the United States is a critical step in our efforts to combat this deadly epidemic,” Senator Hassan said. “I applaud the DEA for taking this important step to lower opioid production quotas, but we must keep working together at all levels of government to combat this crisis and save lives.”

The DEA is responsible for establishing annual quotas determining the exact amount of each opioid drug that is permitted to be produced in the U.S. each year. Last year—after years of dramatic increases to the volume of opioids allowed to come to the market—the DEA heeded calls to address America’s opioid epidemic by reducing nearly all opioid quotas by 25 percent or more. This was the first reduction of its kind in more twenty years.  After last week’s announcement, three powerful, addictive painkillers will see a significant reduction from what was allowed on the market just two years prior: a 31 percent cut to oxycodone over two years; a 43 percent cut to hydrocodone over two years; and a 42 percent cut to fentanyl over two years.

Between 1993 and 2015, the DEA allowed production of oxycodone to increase 39-fold, hydrocodone to increase 12-fold, hydromorphone to increase 23-fold, and fentanyl to increase 25-fold.  As a result, the number of opioid pain relievers dispensed in the United States has skyrocketed over the last two decades – from 76 million prescriptions in 1991 to more than 245 million prescriptions in 2014.  The increase in opioid-related overdose deaths has mirrored the dramatic rise in opioid prescribing, with more than 33,000 deaths reported in 2015.

According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a recent study found that 91.8 million U.S. adults used prescription opioids in 2015. Of those 91.8 million, about 11.5 million, or 4.6 percent, reported misusing them. The study also showed that 1.9 million, or 0.8 percent, said they were addicted.