Turning Tides? DEA Seeking Fewer Opioids; Increase in Cannabis for Research

WASHINGTON, D.C. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is seeking to lower opioid medication production levels next year while increasing production of cannabis for research.

The DEA’s plan would lower the production of five opioids:

  • Fentanyl production by 31 percent
  • Hydrocodone by 19 percent
  • Hydromorphone by 25 percent
  • Oxycodone by 9 percent 
  • Oxymorphone by 55 percent

Opioid addiction has ballooned into an epidemic over the years. Abuse of opioid medications, prescribing practices, and product marketing by pharmaceutical companies have come under scrutiny lately. Purdue Pharma, a maker of OxyContin has reached a tentative settlement agreement for its role in the opioid crisis. They are expected to pay out $3 billion over the next several years. Other pharmaceutical companies face a federal opioid trial next month.

The DEA is seeking to lower production in order to avoid excess opioid availability and abuse. 

“DEA endeavors to set production limits at a level required to meet these needs, without resulting in an excessive amount of these potentially harmful substances,” the agency said in a release.

As the DEA pursues its plan to reduce opioid abuse, it is proposing an increase in cannabis production for research. During the past two years, the number of individuals registered with the agency to research cannabis has grown by approximately 40 percent. In January 2017, there were 384 valid registrations with the DEA to research cannabis. That number rose to 542 in January 2019.

“The aggregate production quota set by DEA each calendar year ensures that patients have the medicines they need while also reducing excess production of controlled prescription drugs that can be diverted and misused,” said Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon in the release. “DEA takes seriously its obligations to both protect the public from illicit drug trafficking and ensure adequate supplies to meet the legitimate needs of patients and researchers for these substances.”

Some members of the cannabis industry have already voiced their support for the DEA’s plan. 

“It’s incredible to see the United States government embrace this market,” Derek Du Chesne, Chief Growth Officer of EcoGen Laboratories said in a press release. “We are looking forward to taking a leadership position with them as they expand their scope into THC in addition to CBD (2018 Farm Bill), as this will expedite much-needed research.”

Thomas E. Gavin IV, chief executive officer of CannaTrac, echoed Du Chesne. “We think that anytime the government opens up to researching the medicinal benefits within our industry, it’s good news and a step in the right direction,” he said.

Dr. Stuart Titus, chief executive officer of Medical Marijuana, Inc., believes that the current state of federally approved cannabis research is in desperate need of expansion and improvement.

“For many years, U.S.-based researchers have had extreme difficulties in performing medical cannabis studies because of the lack of quality in the cannabis that is available for research and the lack of diversity in organizations allowed to grow it for this purpose,” Dr. Titus said. “Currently, the University of Mississippi is the only organization federally approved to grow this cannabis… It is encouraging to see the DEA taking steps to change this and offer researchers the opportunity to gain access to higher-quality cannabis and do more in-depth studies on its potential wellness benefits.”