Tag: DEA

The Courage of Corporate America is Needed to End America’s Opioid Crisis


A Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll published in July found that three in ten U.S. adults (29%) said they had someone in their family who struggled with opioid dependence. Also surprising, and encouraging, was the statistic that 90% support increasing access to opioid use disorder treatment programs in their communities.

As a person in recovery from opioid use disorder and advocate, my read on this data set is that the public support is there. Now more than ever, we need leaders in healthcare, public policy, and corporate America to have the courage to advance effective treatment options. The most inspiring example of the kind of courage we need was the recent news that one of the nation’s largest retail grocery and pharmacy chains, Albertsons, made the financial investment to train their pharmacy staff to administer buprenorphine injections (known as Sublocade) on site.

To someone who is not in the weeds on the issue of opioid use disorder (OUD) treatment programs, this may just sound like a solid business decision. But go a layer deeper and the courage is evident: Albertsons decided to invest in an underutilized treatment option (despite buprenorphine being the gold-standard in OUD treatment) that serves a highly stigmatized patient population who is often shunned at pharmacy counters nationwide. Albertsons chose to put treatment centers for an underserved and highly stigmatized patient population in the middle of their family-friendly, neighborhood grocery pharmacy chain. 

The company rightly recognized that OUD impacts every family and community in this country—including the lives of its patrons. Albertsons pushed through stigma, not leaving the overdose crisis for someone else to address, because it had the ability to provide widespread access through its pharmacies and locations across the nation.

Continue reading…

Stephanie Strong, CEO, Boulder

Stephanie Strong is the CEO of Boulder, which has been blazing a trail in the virtual treatment of substance use disorder. She left venture capital to start the company and has been steadily building its capabilities and reach. We talked in depth about how Boulder helps its patients, who are predominantly on Medicaid and in general tend–as you’d expect–not to have easy circumstances. One remarkable thing Stephanie has done is spearhead resistance to the DEA’s proposal to ban telehealth prescribing of the anti-addiction drug Buprenorphine. And it looks like that campaign has been successful. that alone will save many lives. Watch this interview of a young female CEO who is making a real difference, and totally impressing me in the processMatthew Holt

Matthew’s health care tidbits: Oh, the DEA makes me sigh….

Each time I send out the THCB Reader, our newsletter that summarizes the best of THCB (Sign up here!) I include a brief tidbits section. Then I had the brainwave to add them to the blog. They’re short and usually not too sweet! –Matthew Holt

I have always thought that the dual role of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) was an anachronism that severely hampers America’s complex relationship with pharmaceuticals. Congress deems some medicines legal and regulates them via the FDA, and deems others illegal and tells the DEA and other law enforcement agencies to attempt to control their supply. Leaving aside the basic futility of this task, somehow DEA was also given the task of regulating the prescribers of legal prescription (and non-prescription) drugs–in particular those around controlled substances.

This has led to decades of DEA-led persecution of doctorspatients and even convenience store clerks in the name of reducing the diversion of opiates and methamphetamines. Of course going after any of these folks is much easier and less risky than hunting a Mexican cartel or busting real criminals, so it’s easy to see why the DEA has taken that approach. Has it worked in reducing the supply of opiates? Maybe. Has it had any impact on the opiate crisis? Not really. Have a whole lot of patients been caught in the crossfire? Yup.

Now the DEA is moving onto the next phase–re-regulating the online prescribing of controlled substances that was liberalized at the start of the public health emergency in 2020. As you can imagine, their proposals are not exactly bursting with reason.

The DEA is essentially banning all controlled prescribing without a face to face visit first. This is despite the fact that the demand for those mental health medications increased dramatically during the pandemic as rates of depression and anxiety went up by a factor of three. While you can argue that in 2021 and 2022 some online services (notably Cerebral) may–and I stress may–have crossed the over-prescribing line for ADHD and other conditions, there’s no evidence that what happened is any worse than the in-person care that the DEA has been inadequately overseeing for decades. More importantly, those online services have already pulled out of those exact therapeutic markets the DEA is alarmed about. Who is left providing online ADHD care? Local clinicians and reputable services. And of course DEA knows full well, and is doing nothing about, the lack of access to mental health professionals that existed long before the increase in demand.

Is there any reason to suspect DEA will improve the quality of the system dealing with these medications? Highly doubtful. There are two current examples suggesting why not. First, due to the increased demand from the pandemic induced mental-health crisis and production problems at pharma company Teva, there’s a massive shortage of ADHD medication already. The DEA could help patients out here, but have declined to increase production quotas–sending millions of patients and their parents on a wild goose chase hunting down pharmacies with actual supply of Adderall and related meds.

Secondly, the DEA wants to also ban the the online prescribing of another drug, buprenorphine, which is used to help wean patients with substance use disorder off opiates and other substances. OK, so there’s a one month grace period here but essentially this is a short-sighted ban that will directly lead to patients going to the black market to acquire opiates, leading to more addiction and death.

My conclusion is that the DEA should be removed from its oversight of licensed clinicians and that role be given to FDA or HHS. At the least these proposed  regulations should be abandoned and rolled back to what we have now. The only good news is that there is still time to comment on the regulations. I went and did so and I hope you will too. Patients have suffered enough already.