In response to the drug poisoning crisis, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been targeting controlled medication prescribers, including substance use disorder (SUD) treatment providers, for investigation, administrative enforcement, and prosecution.
Some prescribers have reported that, as part of an administrative audit or criminal investigation, the DEA pressures them to voluntarily surrender their federal registration to prescribe controlled substances under the guise that the prescriber can later apply to have his or her registration reinstated. There is reason to believe that few, if any, prescribers have had success reinstating their registrations after voluntary surrender, including those who were not found to have engaged in any wrongdoing.
The DEA’s approach to registration surrenders and reinstatements detrimentally impacts patients across the country who have legitimate needs for controlled prescription medications, as the patients of prescribers who surrender their registrations must seek treatment elsewhere. Furthermore, the DEA’s aggressive tactics have a chilling effect on health care providers’ willingness to prescribe medically necessary controlled medications. In some parts of the country, there is a shortage of providers who can prescribe or dispense controlled medications used to treat opioid use disorder, leaving vulnerable individuals without access to medication and at risk of disease progression, drug poisoning, and death.
Initial FOIA Request to the DEA
To learn more about this problem and how it can be addressed, the Center for U.S. Policy (CUSP) submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the DEA on August 8, 2019, seeking data on registration revocations, surrenders, and requests for reinstatement. Read our initial FOIA request here.
First Denial Letter
On September 13, 2019, CUSP received a denial letter. The DEA refused to share information pertaining to the instances in which dispensers voluntarily surrendered a registration to dispense controlled substances, the names of dispensers who reapplied following revocation or voluntary surrender, and the names of dispensers who were granted a new registration following revocation or voluntary surrender, citing Exemption 7(C). The DEA argued that this request was an unwarranted invasion of privacy. Read the initial denial letter here. Read about exemptions, which are reasons the government is allowed to deny a FOIA request, here.
CUSP appealed the first denial letter on December 11, 2019. Among other things, we argued that any privacy interest is heavily outweighed by the public interest. Read our appeal here.
On April 15, 2020, the Department of Justice Office of Information Policy remanded our request and directed the DEA to search for responsive records. Read the remand letter here.
Second Denial Letter
On April 26, 2022, the DEA informed CUSP that it identified a spreadsheet responsive to our request. However, the agency once again decided to withhold the information based on Exemption 7(C) (unwarranted invasion of personal privacy from disclosure of law enforcement records or information), Exemption 6 (unwarranted invasion of personal privacy from disclosure of personnel, medical, or similar files), and Exemption 7(E) (disclosure of law enforcement techniques). Read the second denial letter here.
Second Remand Letter
On October 7, 2022, our request was partially remanded, and the DEA was told to send any records that it determines are releasable. Read the remand letter here.
Overdue Response Notice
On December 16, 2022, CUSP sent the DEA a letter notifying the agency that a response is overdue. We requested immediate disclosure of the responsive records. The DEA has not responded to the letter. Read the response notice here.
Second Overdue Response Notice
On March 14, 2023, CUSP sent the DEA an additional letter notifying the agency that a response is overdue. We requested immediate disclosure of the responsive records. Read the second response notice here.
We are currently awaiting a decision from the DEA. Any adverse determinations made by the DEA can be appealed.