The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on Wednesday announced that it has launched an addition to its Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System (ARCOS) tool. Now, drug manufacturers and distributors—who are obligated to identify and report suspicious orders for controlled substances—will be able to view more data in order to look for red flags.
Specifically, they will be able to see the number of competitors who have sold a particular controlled substance to a prospective buyer in the last six months.
For example, if a distributor’s query shows that a large number of suppliers have recently sold oxycodone to a certain prospective purchaser, the distributor might need to evaluate a new order request more critically to determine if an excessive amount of oxycodone is being sold.
What is ARCOS?
ARCOS is an automated, comprehensive drug reporting system that monitors the flow of controlled substances, such as opioid products, from their point of manufacture through commercial distribution channels to the dispensing level. Dispensers could include hospitals, retail pharmacies, practitioners, mid-level practitioners and teaching institutions.
Who reports to ARCOS?
There are more than 1,500 DEA-registered manufacturers and distributors. According to DEA, more than 30 million transactions are reported each year.
What happens to the data?
ARCOS accumulates the transactions, which are then summarized into reports that give investigators in federal and state government agencies information that can be used to identify diversion of controlled substances. The information on drug distribution is used throughout the country by attorneys and DEA investigators to strengthen criminal cases in the courts.
In the most recent report data I found online—from calendar year 2016—there are various break-downs of retail drug distribution in surprising detail. For example, I can look up how many grams of oxycodone were distributed by quarter in every state.
Why is this important?
More drug distributors are being held responsible for being too lax in monitoring the distribution of controlled substances—opioids in particular—and have been hit with law suits and subjected to federal investigations. In January, the Washington Post reported that a House committee discovered 20.8 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills were delivered to a small town in West Virginia—enough for about 6,500 pills per person. Congressional leaders blame the local distributors.
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