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Months After Committee Highlighted Use of Data, DEA and DOJ to Unleash ‘Surge’ with Data-Targeting


WASHINGTON, DC – Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced yesterday in Kentucky that “a surge” of Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents will examine pharmacies and prescribers who appear to be providing or prescribing unusually large amounts of opioids.

The announcement comes after the Energy and Commerce Committee began raising questions about monitoring systems the DEA had in place to detect the potential oversupplying of opioids nationwide.

According to The Washington Post, “the DEA will examine data from approximately 80 million reports it collects every year from prescription drug manufacturers and distributors, Sessions said.”

The Hill reports, “‘DEA collects some 80 million transaction reports every year from manufacturers and distributors of prescription drugs. These reports contain information like distribution figures and inventory. DEA will aggregate these numbers to find patterns, trends, statistical outliers—and put them into targeting packages,’ Sessions said, according to a transcript of the speech.”

Make no mistake, this is important action taken by the DEA and Department of Justice. It just also happens to be something the committee raised in a letter to the DEA in May 2017.

The committee’s letter noted that “[w]ith the collective data that DEA has access to, the agency can help identify and respond to suspicious order trends for addictive opioids that appear problematic or excessive.”

In the letter, the committee specifically asked the DEA whether it has “sufficient insight into the supply patterns” of states hard-hit by the opioid epidemic that would allow it to identify and respond to suspicious patterns. The committee also asked about any specific steps the DEA was taking to examine suspicious patterns across the nation.

In October 2017, the committee used public ARCOS data to examine the amounts of hydrocodone and oxycodone distributed to certain areas of West Virginia. The results were staggering. The committee is currently analyzing more detailed ARCOS data obtained from the DEA and is finding even more egregious practices by wholesale distributors. For example, one distributor supplied a small-town pharmacy with 1.1 million hydrocodone pills in 2008 alone—a 1,1880 percent increase over what was distributed the year before.

Bipartisan committee leaders believe this information will help aid investigations into alleged pill dumping, and are engaging with DEA on how their databases can be better leveraged for investigative purposes.

To learn more about the committee’s ongoing investigation and other efforts to combat the opioid crisis, click here.