WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Ranking Member and Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, along with Senators Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), commented on a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released today that assesses the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) ability to screen and monitor individuals and businesses licensed to manufacture, handle and prescribe controlled substances.
The DEA oversees approximately 1.4 million registrants who are licensed to handle or prescribe controlled substances. However, according to GAO, about 12,000 names on DEA’s list require further review because the Social Security numbers on file at the agency for these registrants could not be validated by the Social Security Administration or were registered to multiple names or variations of names. Other concerns were raised about DEA’s ability to verify its registrants’ state licenses or criminal background after initial registration. Registrants could be ineligible due to a clerical error, but in other cases the license holder may have passed away or be ineligible for a license for some other reason. The inability to verify other names on DEA’s list could also be an indication of fraud. While the 12,000 names GAO flagged for further review represent a fraction of the entire list, the bipartisan senators noted that more should be done after an individual’s initial registration to make certain that potentially dangerous substances are not falling into the wrong hands.
“Today’s GAO report highlights an area where we need to be doing better,” said Senator Carper. “Drug abuse, particularly prescription opioid and heroin abuse, has been a growing problem across our country for many years now. It has led to tragic consequences not just for those who are suffering from addiction, but also for their families and communities. The federal government has an obligation to ensure that those authorized to produce, transport and prescribe medications and other drugs on the controlled substances list are who they say they are and are following the rules. This is just one example of why I have been working to pass my bill, the Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act, which would help address this issue by ensuring more accurate death data collection and granting DEA and other agencies access to the most accurate list of individuals who are deceased. I encourage DEA to fully consider GAO’s recommendations in order to prevent fraud, increase efficiency and ensure better coordination across agencies when it comes to registering and monitoring individuals that have access to these potentially harmful substances.”
“As our nation continues to struggle with rising rates of opiate addiction and death, the DEA is failing in its efforts to keep track of who can legally handle dangerous drugs,” said Chairman Johnson. “Today’s report found that the DEA registers and re-registers practitioners who do not report a Social Security number, practitioners whose numbers do not match their names, practitioners who are listed as deceased, and even practitioners who have had their medical licenses revoked and who are registered sex offenders. While the vast majority of illegal drugs that make it to the streets come from other nations, the DEA must do everything it can to stop corrupt doctors from selling illegal drugs on the side. A single bad actor can have a huge impact on a community.”
“This report shows the Drug Enforcement Agency’s stunning failure to properly oversee and account for the doctors and companies permitted to prescribe narcotics that carry an extremely high rate of abuse,” said Senator McCaskill. “As we know all too well in Missouri—the only state without a prescription drug monitoring database—opioids can easily fall into the wrong hands, and the agency tasked with enforcing this country’s drug laws has got to start doing its job of conducting appropriate oversight of the folks we trust to prescribe these powerful substances.”
“Gaps in the DEA’s licensing process can lead to fraud and abuse and serious consequences for Americans’ health and safety. We’ve learned the DEA should look closely at how it tracks those in charge of the controlled substances supply chain to ensure the system is airtight,” said Senator Whitehouse. “I look forward to working with the DEA to close these gaps and protect the public from potentially dangerous drugs falling into the wrong hands.”