D.E.A. Let Opioid Production Surge as Crisis Grew, Inspector General Says

The Drug Enforcement Administration was “slow to respond” to a sharp increase in opioid abuse, allowing painkiller production to soar, the Justice Department’s inspector general said in a harsh review on Tuesday.

The watchdog office said in its review that the D.E.A. authorized large increases in the production of painkillers even as the number of opioid-related deaths in the United States rose quickly.

“We found that the rate of opioid overdose deaths in the United States grew, on average, by 8 percent per year from 1999 through 2013 and by 71 percent per year from 2013 through 2017,” the review said. “Yet, from 2003 through 2013 DEA was authorizing manufacturers to produce substantially larger amounts of opioids.”

It added that the D.E.A. did not capture enough timely data on opioid abuse or other drug trends.

“D.E.A. is responsible for regulating opioid production quotas and investigating its illegal diversion,” Michael E. Horowitz, the inspector general, said in a video on Tuesday. “We found that D.E.A. was slow to respond to this growing public health crisis and that its regulatory and enforcement efforts could have been more effective.”

For example, he said, said the agency increased production quotas for oxycodone production by about 400 percent between 2002 and 2013, despite evidence that opioids were being overprescribed and misused.

The report noted that the D.E.A. had “recently taken steps to address the opioid epidemic, but more work remains.”

This story will be updated.

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