Former DEA Agent on how drug importation will exacerbate the opioid crisis

Source: Fountain Hills Coalition

This editorial by Douglas Herbert was published in The White Mountain Independent on May 31, 2019. Herbert is a board member at the Fountain Hills Coalition; he previously worked for 26 years for the Drug Enforcement Agency, retiring as DEA’s Assistant Special Agent in Charge in Arizona.

The Risks of Counterfeit Pharmaceuticals

Last month President Trump announced 17 percent fewer opioid prescriptions were written this year compared to last year.

As former Assistant Special Agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Arizona, I had the privilege of establishing two DEA Tactical Diversion Squads in Arizona. Part of a national strategy, DEA pursued elements of the pharmaceutical and medical industries whom the DEA determined were abusing their DEA registration when marketing and over-prescribing opioid medication.

Arizona enacted stricter controls on the medical industry’s prescribing of opioids; limiting the number of prescription opioid pills for first-time patients, mandatory participation in prescription monitoring programs, and educating the medical industry on opioid addiction.

With reduction of opioid prescriptions; one would conclude there would be a corresponding reduction of prescription opioid abusers. To the contrary, opioid addition and overdose incidents are at epidemic proportions, with no end in sight.

It appears government successes reducing available “legal” pain medication generated an unintended consequence. Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) filled the void, flooding America with foreign counterfeit prescription drugs; fueling the opioid crises.

According to the CDC, U.S. prescription drug overdoses reached a record 72,000 deaths in 2018. What is disturbing, over half of the opioid overdose deaths were from fentanyl, a synthetic heroin manufactured in China.

Fentanyl contained in foreign counterfeit medications, sourced in China and smuggled across the border by Mexican DTOs, supplies millions of addicted patients.

Patients unwittingly purchase foreign counterfeit drugs, disguised as low-level medication, unaware of the dangers, end up as an overdose statistic. There is no question, counterfeit opioid drugs are responsible for thousands of deaths. Therefore, proposals to “legally” allow foreign prescription medications to compete with the U.S. pharmaceutical industry should make everyone stop and take pause.

We are fortunate the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has strict policies and controls over the pharmaceutical industry, ensuring Americans their prescription drugs are legitimate, free from contamination, and safe. These government and industry safeguards in the U.S. do not apply to pharmaceutical drugs of foreign origin.

According to the World Customs Organization, pharmaceutical drugs are the number one counterfeited item in the world; a $200 billion a year industry. International DTOs have exploited sub-standard quality management, unwitting suppliers, and corruption to infiltrate international pharmaceutical supply chains.

Not unlike the situation with counterfeit opioid drugs, the unwitting public will gravitate to what is most affordable and available; unaware of the risks that “legally” imported pharmaceutical drugs may be counterfeit.

It is imperative lawmakers who entertain policy allowing the “legal” importation of foreign pharmaceutical drugs, consider the risks to Americans of international DTOs expanding their counterfeit operations to the U.S.