By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - A U.S. government watchdog sharply criticized the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) response to the crippling opioid crisis that has ravaged communities, saying the agency was "slow to respond to the dramatic increase in opioid abuse.”
The report by the office of the Department of Justice's Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, found that since 2000 the DEA did not use resources it had to act on the crisis that it said has since resulted in more than 300,000 overdose deaths.
"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 report says. "Yet, from 2003 through 2013 DEA was authorizing manufacturers to produce substantially larger amounts of opioids."
The watchdog sharply criticized the DEA for failing to properly utilize what are known as Immediate Suspension Orders, which would have allowed the agency to order companies to halt pill shipments.
Instead, the DEA "rarely used its strongest enforcement tool" starting in 2013 when overdose deaths skyrocketed, the report charges.
Horowitz said in publicly-released video message that "despite growing evidence that opioids were being over-prescribed and misused, DEA increased oxycodone production quotas by 400% between 2002 and 2013."
"It wasn't until 2017 that DEA significantly reduced the production quota for oxycodone by 25%," he said.
The DEA falls under the Justice Department's purview.