Opioid supply crunch for U.S. coronavirus patients

Exclusive: Opioid supply crunch for U.S. coronavirus patients prompts appeal to relax limits – Reuters – Dan LevineApril 2, 2020

U.S. doctors running out of narcotics needed for COVID-19 patients on ventilators are asking the federal government to raise production limits for drugmakers, according to a letter seen by Reuters, after national quotas had been tightened to address the opioid addiction crisis.

It’s becoming ever more clear that the DEA has become an unacceptable impediment to healthcare delivery. They have no business regulating the practice of medicine when their purpose is the enforcement of the latest prohibition against an essential medicine.

The U.S. government sets annual limits on how much tightly regulated narcotics can be produced by pharmaceutical companies, and then allocates portions to various manufacturers.  

Amid an outcry over opioid abuse, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reduced the overall fentanyl quota by over 30% for 2020. 

In a letter to the DEA on Tuesday, groups including the American Medical Association and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) said supplies of injectable fentanyl, morphine and hydromorphone are already in short supply and asked for increased company allocations.

A senior DEA official told Reuters the agency currently believes the existing national quotas are “completely sufficient” to meet the spike in demand…

How is it possible that their quotas anticipated this once-a-century demand? While there are shortages of so many other items needed for the treatment for the coronavirus, the DEA claims their pre-set quotas are “completely sufficient”. It’s hard to believe they even believe what they’re saying.

…and there is still room for additional allocations to companies under the cap to make millions more injectable doses that hospitals use.

The agency is closely monitoring the situation, however, and has begun discussing steps it can take to expedite an overall quota hike if necessary, the official, who asked to remain anonymous, said.

Doctors and nurses can use a range of drugs to help patients that need a ventilator. Some, such as anesthesia drug propofol, are not as tightly regulated as opioids like fentanyl. But hospital staff around the country have already begun reporting shortages of many of these drugs, and difficulty filling orders.

So, the doctors and nurses on the front lines who need these medications for patients are running out, while the DEA says there’s enough and even some to spare.

The DEA tries to prosecute doctors for prescribing opioids, while doctors are trying to keep people alive – who you gonna believe?

Demand for fentanyl, hydromorphone and morphine spiked 67% in March compared to January, according to Vizient, which helps healthcare providers manage their supply chains. At the same time, the fill rate for Vizient members had dropped to 73% by March 25.


Dr. Michael Ganio, director of pharmacy practice and quality at ASHP, said doctors will be forced to use different and less common combinations of sedatives if shortages continue to mount. That increases the risk of medical errors, he said.

The DEA last week agreed to relax inventory controls for manufacturers, allowing them to produce and store more than 65% of their annual quota throughout the duration of the emergency.

But wait, didn’t the DEA claim there was currently plenty available under its system?

“This exception does not authorize any manufacturer to exceed his previously established annual manufacturing quota,” the DEA wrote.

So, the currently “sufficient” quotas are being bolstered by “borrowing” from future quotas, and the DEA still stands by its arbitrary restrictions for these essential medicines.

I hope ridiculous policies like this will finally be abolished. Why should the DEA have the power to limit healthcare for dying people?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a request for information from drug manufacturers this week.

If the sedatives are not effective, a patient could potentially gain consciousness but be unable to alert medical staff.

This is the dreaded “consciousness while paralyzed” during surgeries or other painful medical procedures.

Reporting by Dan Levine in Oakland, California; Editing by Bill Berkrot

2 thoughts on “Opioid supply crunch for U.S. coronavirus patients

  1. Pingback: DEA to raise quotas of opioids for COVID-19 care | EDS and Chronic Pain News & Info

  2. Pingback: A new opioid crisis: beware lest you get what you asked for | EDS and Chronic Pain News & Info

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