What role does the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have in patient healthcare? Is DEA involved with your physician's medical practice or does DEA simply track prescription drugs? Why does DEA investigate and prosecute some doctors? What does DEA look for and how are they scrutinizing the professional activities of healthcare providers? Unfortunately, many physicians as well as patients do not understand DEA's role in healthcare. Physicians know they receive a DEA registration number to prescribe controlled substances, but then what? DEA is responsible for enforcing the Controlled Substances Act which encompasses scheduled pharmaceuticals. DEA enforces and investigates a variety of medical business activities which are involved in the prescribing process.

As a recently retired DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge, I have first-hand experience investigating physicians and other healthcare personnel. As a DEA investigator, I would launch investigations into medical practitioners who prescribed controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the usual course of professional practice. While prescribers understand the initial need to register with DEA ​​for prescribing rights, there is a lack of training and information regarding best practice measures from a DEA regulatory standpoint. This leads to problems between physicians and DEA, but can also lead to problems between physicians and their patients when prescribing narcotics for pain.

A fact few people know is there is a direct link between prescribing opiate pain-killers and heroin use. The explosion of the heroin abuse epidemic is a direct result of the abundance of prescriptions that have been written for opiates or "pain-killers" over the past two decades. Due to the stringent controls and the negative media attention placed on the abuse and diversion of opiate medications, practitioners have become reluctant to prescribe them, even when prescriptions may be warranted. This exemplifies a misunderstanding of DEA's role and federal regulations. After talking with physicians throughout the country, I have determined there is a gross misunderstanding and overall lack of knowledge regarding what activities may trigger a DEA investigation. As a result, physicians may not prescribe legitimately justified opiates in fear of being investigated. Patients are thereafter turning to the alternative of heroin to manage their pain. As a result, the number of individuals with addictions is growing and people are dying.

Physicians can protect themselves by taking the appropriate steps and measures during the course of patient treatment. Some physicians question DEA's expertise in medical treatment. How do DEA investigators determine the best course of treatment if they are not doctors themselves? To ensure DEA does not impair medical treatment but also identifies illegitimate prescribing, medical experts are retained during investigations and often testify on behalf of the government. The medical experts review the treatment methods and patient charts to establish if the controlled substances were prescribed with a legitimate medical purpose.

I am confident additional training in DEA Regulatory Policy can help physicians remain compliant and ultimately result in better care for their patients. DEA does not direct physicians how to practice medicine, but rather ensures prescribers are completing steps necessary to justify prescribing controlled substances. This is one of the primary roles DEA has in patient healthcare. DEA works to ensure medical practitioners are prescribing narcotics responsibly and in accordance with Federal regulations, for their safety and the safety and well-being of their patients.