2017 Opioid Cutback—What is It? And is it Working?

Last October the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced it would be reducing the amount of “almost every Schedule II opiate and opioid medication that may be manufactured in the United States in 2017 by 25 percent or more.” Some examples of schedule II controlled substances include oxycodone, fentanyl, methadone, morphine, codeine, and hydrocodone.

The growing number of drug overdoses and deaths associated with opioids is the most apparent cause for the DEA’s new quota. But there are other factors behind the decision. One such factor is the 25 percent “buffer” in our nation’s opioid supply that accumulated from 2013 to 2016, when the DEA allowed more production of opioids than usual to prevent shortages. According to the DEA’s press release, another reason for the 2017 reduction is a falling trend in the number of opioid prescriptions being written by DEA-registered practitioners.

The quota mandate adds onto existing pressure physicians are feeling to reduce opioid prescriptions following the 2016 release by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of new guidelines for opioid prescribers. The guidelines discourage primary care physicians from prescribing opioids for chronic pain.

Is the Opioid Cutback Working?

The intended outcome of reducing the nation’s opioid supply is a decreased chance for people to become addicted to prescription painkillers by making them less accessible. But many are concerned that the DEA’s restrictions could make things worse. If patients suffering from chronic pain are unable to get opioids legally, they may seek out painkillers from disreputable sources, potentially ending up with counterfeit pain medications laced with fentanyl or turning to heroin.

As we near the halfway point of 2017, it’s difficult to say whether or not the full impact of the DEA’s opioid order has landed, especially given the “buffer” supply built up during the past few years of opioid production. So it has yet to be seen if this anti-drug measure will have a positive effect on America’s opioid epidemic.

Drug policy experts and researchers seem to generally agree that what’s needed in addressing the nation’s opioid crisis is more focus on drug addiction treatment. However, the DEA’s 2017 opioid supply cutback and last year’s prescriber guidelines from the CDC place emphasis on drug restrictions, leaving a large need still present among the individuals struggling with addiction to prescription pain medications.

As we continue looking for ways of effectively addressing the state of opioid addiction and other widespread substance abuse issues in the U.S., two important considerations will be the serious underlying problems behind drug addiction and how to properly combat them. Counselors at Mazzitti and Sullivan don’t simply address a person’s struggle with substance abuse, they provide dual diagnosis services to help clients work through the mental and/or behavioral health issues that often accompany addiction. Treating co-occurring disorders with evidence-based practices helps our clients achieve sobriety long term.