Better data could help fight the opioid crisis, says DOJ IG

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More data, available in a more timely fashion, would help the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) better combat America’s ongoing opioid crisis.

This is one finding in a recent audit by the Department of Justice’s inspector general. The report found that DEA does use databases like the Automated Reports and Consolidated Orders System (ARCOS) and the Suspicious Order Reporting System (SORS) to track trends in the diversion of these controlled substances. However, the IG argues that these databases have two main weaknesses: They aren’t updated often enough and they don’t track certain drugs that are known to be used in conjunction with opioids, meaning DEA is missing some data that could be helpful in its mission.

“Due to these deficiencies, we believe that DEA is ill-equipped to effectively monitor ordering patterns for all pharmaceutical opioids,” the IG writes.

The first issue is one of data timeliness. Manufacturers and distributors of these controlled substances are required to report their ordering information to the ARCOS database. But while some manufacturers or distributors do this on a monthly basis, others only do it quarterly.”This dichotomy of reporting schedules forces DEA to wait a full year before ARCOS contains all of the ordering information needed to fully analyze the data and develop leads and trends,” the IG found.

The second issue the IG found was one of data completeness.

While manufacturers are required to report information about pharmaceuticals on Schedules I and II, widely considered to be the most dangerous drugs, not all manufacturers or distributors of Schedules III, IV, and V drugs have the same requirements. The IG found that “as many as 9 opioid compounds found in over 20 pharmaceutical brands were not reported in ARCOS, making it much more difficult to detect the diversion of these prescription drugs.”

“We are concerned that the nine opioid compounds not reported in ARCOS are just as dangerous to public safety as those on Schedules I and II,” the report states.

The IG also found that the SORS database is struck by a kind of data decentralization problem — the database itself lives at the headquarters level but suspicious order reports are most often made to field office divisions of DEA. Per the IG, “DEA has not created a mechanism whereby reports sent to its field divisions are uploaded into the SORS database.” This, the report notes, “significantly” impacts the utility of such a database.

The good news is that DEA is working to improve data sharing with partners at the federal level, like the Department of Health and Human Services, and the state level. The IG says “improvements” are needed here, but that this kind of collaboration is important.

The report makes nine recommendations, including that the DEA require that all suspicious order reports be sent to headquarters for inclusion in the SORS database.

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data, Department of Justice (DOJ), Drug Enforcement Agency, Inspector General, Opioid epidemic
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