The media are getting the opioid crisis all wrong | Washingon Examiner |by Gabe Weissman | Aug 2019
Last week marked yet another ill-conceived media attack on the drug distributors.In an attempt to paint the broader industry as a group of entirely bad actors, the press has yet again taken data out of context and pushed the false narrative that distributors knowingly fueled the opioid epidemic.
In this case, the public release of the Automated Reports and Consolidated Ordering System, or ARCOS, database spanning from 2006 to 2012 demonstrated that distributors document each order of prescription opioids and share that information exclusively with the Drug Enforcement Agency.
So, the DEA is the only agency that had data for all opioids shipped, yet they stood idly by as bizarrely large orders went to tiny rural pharmacies. I don’t understand why they aren’t being blamed for allowing such massive shipments when they had both the data and the authority to curtail them.
However, what the majority of the reporting failed to point out is that DEA, which alone had access to that information, acted insufficiently, if it acted at all.
The DEA is the regulatory and enforcement agency in charge of controlled substances. It not only maintains the ARCOS database, but also sets and adjusts the quantity of prescription opioids that can be manufactured each year.
Although DEA maintains the comprehensive ARCOS database of all opioid orders, its contents were historically sealed and unavailable to anyone except the DEA.
This means that while the data is now available for media and the public to analyze in hindsight, it was not available at the time to distributors while they were attempting to make decisions about how to fulfill their regulatory duties.
Progress has been made in this area with the passage of the SUPPORT Act in late 2018. Today, distributors have access to the previous six months of orders made by any given pharmacy. While real-time access to data would be ideal,
The DEA had it the whole time, as the information was provided by distributors. But only now are distributors also getting the opportunity to review and analyze it.
This is criminal. The agency that is raiding pain doctors’ offices for prescribing “too much” had information that indicated huge fraud at an even higher level.
Given the level of federal and state oversight required for a drug to travel from a factory to a patient, you might assume that these government agencies would accept some responsibility for the current opioid epidemic.
Instead, the blame has been placed squarely on the supply chain — manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies — without regard for what federal and state involvement or oversight have been.
There’s clearly a story here, but it’s opposite from the prevailing narrative. The data shows that while the majority of medicines were shipped by the three biggest distributors, the majority of opioids sold were shipped by other companies.
The media hype is leading to false, counterproductive accusations.
Reporters these days are forced to collect “clicks” on their articles to get paid, so they have to write what people want to read, whether it’s the truth or not. It’s encouraging to see more articles explaining the “real facts” about the so-called “opioid crisis”.
Author: Gabe Weissman is senior vice president for communications for AmerisourceBergen, one of the nation’s largest wholesale distributors of pharmaceuticals.