Senator Says “Ensuring Patient Access” Continues to be a Problem – Still, DEA Wants to Repeal Protections

-Kelly F. Merrill

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee met Tuesday, December 12, 2017, to provide Oversight of the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act.

The bill expanded required elements of an “order to show cause” issued by the DEA before it denies, revokes, or suspends a registration for a Controlled Substances Act violation. Specifically, DEA must now state the legal basis for their action and notify the registrant of the opportunity to submit a corrective action plan.

Since Washington Post and 60 Minutes pieces shed criticism upon the law, there has been controversy. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) expressed frustrations with with vocal critics’ conflicts of interest; and with the DEA, who he suggested had long-been involved but now wanted to repeal a law that was passed with unanimous bipartisan support. Critics claim the law effectively stripped DEA of its enforcement power.

In response, Grassley pointed out that the figures seem to indicate the converse is true; that DEA’s efforts haven’t been hindered but have instead increased.

Sponsor Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) reminded members that the impetus for the law was to address the the growing issue of restrictions hindering legitimate patient access to necessary, opioid pain-relieving medications. The bill passed with overwhelming bi-partisan reports.

Jan Favero Chambers of the National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association testified regarding her own patient experience with regard to trends and policies that have had negative effects upon the pain community since 2005.

Hatch reminded participants that fear of enforcement actions coupled with lack of guidance created the imperative for the law, stressing that DEA’s attitude toward registrants was “downright antagonistic.” A well-informed and deeply critical Hatch applauded the patient advocate from Utah for informing him of the issues.

Co-sponsor Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), expressed frustration that the “backstop” built into the law to assess any unintended consequences of the Act, was months overdue from the Health and Human Services Department (HHS).

No release date has yet been issued for the HHS report, which is mandated by law and continues to be a source of frustration moving forward.


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