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Illicit Opioids: Office of National Drug Control Policy and Other Agencies Need to Better Assess Strategic Efforts

GAO-18-569T Published: May 17, 2018. Publicly Released: May 17, 2018.
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What GAO Found

Federal agencies have documented specific strategies to combat illicit opioids. However, only one of the five strategies we reviewed included outcome, or results-oriented measures—largely due to agency perceptions that designing such measures posed challenges. Without specific outcome-oriented performance measures, federal agencies will not be able to truly assess whether their respective investments and efforts are helping them achieve the goals set out in their strategies.

We also found that while federal law enforcement agencies are increasingly coordinating with the public health sector to share overdose information, both sectors reported ongoing data sharing obstacles and related challenges with the timeliness, accuracy, and accessibility of overdose data. Embarking on a concerted effort, led by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), to examine and address data- related concerns will enhance agencies’ efforts to understand and respond to the opioid epidemic.

Why GAO Did This Study

Recently, there has been a rise in opioid use in the United States involving the abuse of prescription drugs and more traditional illicit opioids, such as heroin. Coinciding with this increase, there also has been a significant increase in the use of man-made (synthetic) opioids, such as fentanyl and fentanyl analogues, which is a main contributor to the spikes in overdose deaths. For example, according to CDC, of the nearly 64,000 drug overdose deaths in 2016, nearly two thirds of the deaths involved opioids. Public health and law enforcement experts expect this number to continue to increase.

As the Congress is currently considering a bill to reauthorize ONDCP, GAO was asked to discuss (1) federal agencies’ specific opioid-related strategies and the extent to which each agency is measuring its performance, and (2) federal agencies efforts to enhance collaboration and information sharing to limit the availability of illicit opioids, ongoing challenges to doing this, and ONDCP’s role in enhancing such collaboration. 

For more information, contact Gretta L. Goodwin at 202-512-8777 or

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CrisisDeathsSubstance abuseDrug controlDrug overdoseDrugsInformation sharingInteragency relationsPerformance measurementPrescription drugsPublic healthPublic health emergenciesStrategic planning