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‘Unusual’ Drug Allocations Target of New DEA Surge

This map shows morphine milligram equivalents of opioids prescribed per capita in 2015 by county. (CDC)

By Josh Mitchell

Corinth Today News Editor

Scrutiny will be intensified nationally over the next 45 days on pharmacies and prescribers dispensing unusual or disproportionate amounts of drugs, the U.S. Justice Department announced Tuesday.

Alcorn County had 26 drug-poisoning deaths from 2012-2016, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health. Of those 26 deaths, nine were in 2016. Figures for 2017 were not yet available.

Alcorn and Tishomingo counties were also among the highest opioid-prescribing counties in the nation, according to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

There were 1,375 morphine milligram equivalents of opioids prescribed per capita in Alcorn County in 2015, more than twice the national figure of 640 morphine milligram equivalents per capita, the CDC report shows.

The Drug Enforcement Administration will surge special agents, diversion investigators and research specialists across the country over the next month and a half. During this time, the DEA will use data from about 80 million transaction reports from drug manufacturers and distributors.

The DEA will analyze the data to “identify patterns, trends and statistical outliers,” a U.S. Department of Justice new release said.

“Our country is in the midst of a drug abuse crisis, enabled and worsened by rampant drug trafficking and prescription drug diversion,” said U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “This surge of resources by the Drug Enforcement Administration will help us make more arrests, secure more convictions, and reduce the number of diverted or unnecessary prescription drugs causing addiction and overdose.”

The justice department has also started pilot programs in various states to identify and prosecute suspects who contribute to the opioid epidemic. The program is called the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Alabama was selected as one of the pilot locations.

A spokeswoman with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Alabama said, “Receiving and absorbing the data is still in the early stages, but the OPP Task Force will use the analytics it receives from DOJ to work with the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services, and state and local law enforcement to investigate and prosecute pill mills and physicians and pharmacists contributing to the opioid epidemic.”

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