As overdoses soared, nearly 35 billion opioids handled by 15% of pharmacies

A judge recently ordered the release of 7 years of database records from DEA's Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System (ARCOS), which tracks every opioid analgesic distributed nationwide.

A judge recently ordered the release of 7 years of database records from DEA's Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System (ARCOS), which tracks every opioid analgesic distributed nationwide. DEA has maintained this database for roughly 2 decades but did not regularly mine the records to identify pharmacies buying unusual quantities of opioids, according to current and former DEA officials. The agency relies on drug companies and pharmacies to monitor and report suspicious purchases. "There's plenty of blame to go around. I don't know that anyone has been perfect in doing everything possible to eliminate the epidemic," says B. Douglas Hoey, chief executive of the National Community Pharmacists Association. "I do look to DEA for leadership." Hoey cautions against judging pharmacies based only on the number of opioids they handled. There are legitimate reasons small pharmacies can have outsize volumes, including proximity to a surgical center. "The numbers don't always tell the whole story," Hoey says. An analysis by the Washington Post reveals that nearly one-half of the opioids were purchased by just 15% of the pharmacies. Many of the high-volume pharmacies had annual double-digit growth in opioid analgesics.