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DEA, drug firms join forces in push for opioid data secrecy


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CINCINNATI — The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the nation’s largest drug distributors teamed up Thursday to block the public release of information that would show the number of opioid painkillers the companies delivered to pharmacies across America.

At the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, in Cincinnati, a Justice Department lawyer told a three-judge panel that revealing the pill numbers would compromise ongoing investigations, even though the records date back at least five years.

“It’s investigatory data that spans a number of years,” said Sarah Carroll, a government lawyer. “This is an issue of really critical importance to the United States and the DEA.”

Lawyers for The Washington Post and HD Media, which owns the Charleston Gazette-Mail and Huntington’s Herald-Dispatch, argued that the distributors and DEA have other motives for wanting to keep the information secret: The disclosures could embarrass companies that shipped massive quantities of prescription pain pills like OxyContin to states, cities and towns with populations that couldn’t possibly have needed so many painkillers. And the DEA doesn’t want to have to explain why it didn’t stop the deluge of pills.

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