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New report shows DEA contributed to prescription drug shortage

DEA response to increase limits on controlled substances not timely, report states

Local 6 has uncovered a federal report pointing the finger at which agency may be to blame for drug shortages.

[WEB EXTRA: GAO report | FDA shortage list | VIDEO: Tips on getting your scripts ]

"I have to go and fight," said Jim Ritenour.

Last month, Local 6 told you about Ritenour -- he's had three back surgeries in 18 months and said picking up his prescription at the pharmacy is never easy. It's a growing problem with no simple solution.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office just released a report finding that the DEA has contributed to the shortage of prescription drugs containing controlled substances.

Local 6 spoke to Marcia Crosse, the director of GAO's study, via Skype. 

"The DEA has not been meeting their deadline for setting the quotas for over a decade," Crosse said.

Here's how it works: The DEA sets limits on the amount of controlled substance drugs that can be produced. Drug manufacturers must apply to the DEA to increase that number.

According to GAO's report, the DEA has not responded to the requests within a timely manner since 2001.

And when the FDA tries to step in and work with manufacturers with shortages, the DEA and FDA are typically not on the same page.

"They have been working now more than two years to reach an agreement on how they're going to share information, and (the) DEA and FDA have different definitions on what constitutes a drug shortage," Crosse said.

Shortages in some cases have gone on for more than a year, according to Crosse.

"This has been a long-standing problem over the several years we have been doing work on drug shortages," she said. "These are among the drugs that have had repeated shortage problems."

Painkillers like morphine, oxycodone and drugs to treat ADHD are among the drugs that have had repeated shortage problems and they're all listed on FDA's website. They're shortages Charlene Rubano knows all too well when she battles to get her son's prescription filled.

"Most pharmacies will not have his meds, so I have to go from store to store trying to find his meds," Rubano said.

Local 6 sat down with DEA Agent Jeff Walsh last month before the report was released. He said the shortage is not their fault.

"That is not a DEA issue. That's between the pharmacy and the distributor that they purchase their pharmaceuticals from," Walsh said.

But when Local 6 asked about the GAO's findings, the DEA declined another on-camera interview and referred to their statement.

"The DEA neither agreed nor disagreed, but raised multiple objections to this report," the statement reads.

Local 6 contacted state Sens. Eleanor Sobel and Denise Grimsley, who sit on the Health Committee, but they didn't respond.

Local 6 found national legislation -- a bipartisan bill -- ensuring patient access to medications by promoting collaborations among government agencies, patients and the drug industry.