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John Block Reports: The Opioid Crisis – Stop Pointing Fingers

On October 26, 2017, OFW Law founding principal Richard L. Frank filled in for former USDA Secretary John R. Block on his weekly radio broadcast.

The opioid epidemic is a national crisis. Drug overdoses are killing 64,000 Americans each year. It is the leading cause of death for individuals under 50. It requires urgent action and solutions from across our society – the Trump Administration, the DEA, manufacturers, prescribers, distributors, dispensers, and patients.

The recent sensational reporting of the Washington Post and CBS’ Sixty Minutes where a bitter, retired DEA employee blamed the problem on drug distributors does nothing to address this extremely serious problem.

Distributors do not manufacture, prescribe, or dispense opioids. Doctors prescribe. Pharmacists and clinics dispense. And importantly, the DEA annually sets a quota for how much of these drugs can be manufactured and sold based upon what it considers to be “medically necessary.”

Solutions will not come easily but there are some good ideas out there.

  1. DEA should reduce the amount of these drugs which can be produced and dispensed annually.
  2. “Medically necessary” prescriptions should be limited as to the number of pills and duration – 3- or 7-day prescriptions not a month or longer.
  3. FDA should take a hard critical look at current approvals and consider reducing prescription strength and indications where abuse is the greatest and other alternatives exist.
  4. DEA should coordinate with State Boards of Pharmacy to pull licenses and prosecute known “pill mills.”
  5. DEA and State Medical Boards should carefully scrutinize physicians prescribing hundreds of thousands of pills per year and, where appropriate, pull their licenses.
  6. DEA should follow the law and conduct a rulemaking to define “suspicious orders” to assist distributors in knowing where and when a customer should be scrutinized and shipments suspended.
  7. Educational programs should be initiated to help the public realize that “leftover” pills need to be properly destroyed or returned.

Only by working collaboratively can the DEA, prescribers, manufacturers, distributors, dispensers, and the public make a dent in this horrible tragedy impacting large and small communities throughout our nation. Finger-pointing and politically motivated investigative reporting will not solve the problem.

Until next week, I am Rick Frank sitting in for John Block from Washington, D.C.

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.  If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, visit