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Review Of The Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA)
Control Of The Diversion Of Controlled Pharmaceuticals

Report Number I-2002-010
September 2002


Diversion occurs when legally produced controlled pharmaceuticals are illegally obtained for non-medical use. Diversion commonly involves physicians or pharmacists selling prescriptions to drug dealers or abusers, employees stealing from drug inventories, individuals improperly obtaining multiple prescriptions from different doctors, individuals forging prescriptions, or individuals robbing pharmacies.

The number of dosage units of controlled pharmaceuticals dispensed in the United States has grown at an average annual rate of 6 percent since 1992 to a total of nearly 3 billion dosage units in 2000. Along with this growth, non-medical use of controlled pharmaceuticals has increased, especially narcotics, stimulants, depressants, and anabolic steroids. Overall, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the number of people who use controlled pharmaceuticals for non-medical purposes each year approximately equals the number who uses cocaine - 2 to 4 percent of the U.S. population. Due to the far-reaching effect of the controlled pharmaceutical diversion problem, it is critical for the DEA to devote sufficient resources to investigate diversion of controlled pharmaceuticals. It is also important for the DEA to recognize emerging trends and patterns of controlled pharmaceutical diversion and to respond quickly where significant problems are developing.

The Office of the Inspector General, Evaluation and Inspections Division, reviewed the DEA's Office of Diversion Control (OD). Our objective was to assess the DEA's investigative response to the diversion of controlled pharmaceuticals.

Inspection Scope and Methodology

We conducted our fieldwork from August 2001 to July 2002. At DEA headquarters, we reviewed policies and procedures and interviewed DEA officials, including the DEA Deputy Administrator, Chief of the Operations Division, Chief of the Intelligence Division, and Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Office of Diversion Control, to obtain information on the DEA's efforts to investigate the diversion of controlled pharmaceuticals. In addition to its investigative duties, the OD is responsible for registering manufacturers and distributors of controlled pharmaceuticals and regulated chemicals, conducting cyclical investigations of manufacturers and distributors of controlled pharmaceuticals and regulated chemicals, and investigating the diversion of regulated chemicals. Our review did not examine these latter areas of responsibility.

To review OD investigations, we conducted site visits at DEA field offices in Washington, D.C.; Baltimore, Maryland; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Boston, Massachusetts. While on-site, we interviewed diversion personnel and DEA special agents, reviewed criminal diversion case files, and obtained workload statistics. At these locations, we also interviewed Assistant United States Attorneys (AUSAs) to obtain their feedback on the effectiveness of diversion investigators in performing criminal diversion investigations, the adequacy of current DEA policy for performing diversion criminal investigations, and the quality and timeliness of the investigative casework submitted to AUSAs by diversion investigators.

We obtained additional information from 11 DEA field office diversion program managers through a telephone survey. We also conducted interviews with five state and local police officers who conduct investigations jointly with DEA diversion investigators. To obtain information on drug abuse trends, we interviewed Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials from the NIDA and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).