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What are DEA Numbers and What do They Mean?

Submitted by Meditec on Wed, 04/17/2019 - 00:50
What are DEA Numbers and What do They Mean?

Due to increases in the population’s age, higher rates of chronic diseases, and the growing number of people who are covered by insurance, the demand for certified pharmacy technicians is going up in the U.S. In fact, the field is projected to grow 12 percent from 2016 to 2026. That makes a pharmacy tech certification a great investment. One of the requirements of the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE) is the ability to understand and validate the registration numbers issued by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), because any prescription for a controlled substance requires a valid DEA number. Below, we'll explain what DEA numbers are used for, how to decode them, and how to validate a DEA number by hand.

Who needs a DEA number and when?

Anyone who intends to prescribe legal controlled substances in the U.S. must register with the DEA.  The DEA then assigns them a number to include on their controlled substance prescriptions. The primary purpose of a DEA number is to allow the DEA to track controlled substance transactions. So, DEA numbers are assigned not just to health care practitioners who can prescribe medication (like a doctor or a nurse practitioner), but they also assign them to any individual or business along the supply chain. DEA numbers are required for any drugs that are classified Schedule II-V under the Controlled Substances Act.  Schedule I drugs (like heroine and marijuana) are completely illegal at the federal level and have no accepted medical use.  The DEA updates the list of controlled substances and their schedule classifications every year. Some examples of controlled prescription drugs include:

  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Codeine
  • Valium
  • Xanax
  • Cough medicines containing codeine and pregabalin (Lyrica)

DEA numbers are not required for drugs that don't appear on the list, and the DEA discourages unnecessary use of DEA numbers because it compromises the registration system.

What does a DEA number mean?

DEA numbers are constructed so that pharmacists can recognize a poorly forged prescription.  On the PTCE, you'll be tested on what DEA numbers mean and how to validate them.  example DEA number Position One: Registrant Type The first letter indicates what type of entity registered for the DEA number.  They're coded as follows:

  • B = Hospital/Clinic
  • C = Practitioner (i.e., a physician, dentist, veterinarian)
  • D = Teaching Institution
  • E = Manufacturer
  • F = Distributor
  • G = Researcher
  • H = Analytical Lab
  • J = Importer
  • K = Exporter
  • L = Reverse Distributor (an entity that collects expired or unwanted drugs for disposal)
  • M = Mid-Level Practitioner (i.e., nurse practitioners, physician's assistants)
  • P, R, S, T, U = Narcotic Treatment Program
  • X = Suboxone/Subutex Prescribing Program
  • A = used by some older entities, last issued in 1985

Position Two: Registrant's Last Name If the registrant is an individual, the second position is the first letter of the registrant's last name. If the registrant is using a business address instead, the second position is a "9" and not a letter. Positions Three to Eight: 6 Digits that Complete the Unique Identifier The next six positions are the digits that complete the registrant's unique identifier. Position Nine: a "Checksum" or Check Digit The last digit of the DEA number acts as a validation method—more on this later. Dashed Suffix: Supervisee Identifier Under certain circumstances, multiple individuals can use one DEA number. A common example is hospital interns who administer, dispense, or prescribe controlled substances under another doctor's supervision. For accountability, the hospital or institution assigns each individual a "hospital code number" which is then appended to the DEA number after a dash.  So, if a prescription has "EB7344196-P132," the DEA number is everything before the dash and the hospital code is everything after. The individual institution is responsible for creating and maintaining records of these codes, so they have no standardized format. In order to validate them, you would call the institution for verification. They're required to produce the list at the request of law enforcement or other registrants. 

How do you validate a DEA number?

These days, you can check the validity of a DEA number easily with a computer, but a little math can be used "offline" as a reasonable precaution against fraud.  It's not a foolproof method—as evidenced by the example DEA numbers in this article, anyone with access to the rules can create a DEA number that checks out "offline." Step 1: Isolate the 6-digit identifying number You're going to do some math with the 6-digit identifier described above, but you want to make sure you're not starting or ending in the wrong place. Two Rules:

  1. Ignore the last digit of the DEA number (for now)
  2. Remember that the second position ("Last Name") becomes a "9" if the registrant is a business—you're IGNORING this digit for the sake of the math. Always start counting "digits" from the third position of the DEA number.

So, for example, if the DEA number is H93456781, you would ignore the "9" in the second position and the “1” in the last position.  You will use "345678" for your calculations.  Step 2: Add the even-positioned digits together. Once you've isolated the correct 6 digits, add the second, fourth, and sixth digits together. Using our example DEA number: H93456781 ¯ 4+6+8 = 18  Step 3: Multiply the even-positioned sum by 2. In our example, 18 x 2 = 36  Step 4: Add the odd-positioned digits. Take the number you got in the previous step and add the first, third, and fifth digits now. In our example: H93456781 ¯ 36+3+5+7 = 51  Step 4: Compare the last digit of the sum to the DEA number's final "checksum" digit. The "one" digit for your total (the digit at the far right) should match the final digit in the DEA number. All valid DEA numbers will match, so if it doesn't, the DEA number is fraudulent. In our example: 51 compared to H93456781 ¯ The digits match, so the DEA number is valid.

Put It To Use

To pass your pharmacy technician certification exam, you need to know how to identify the parts of a DEA number and check its validity by hand.  We offer all the coursework you need to start your career as a pharmacy technician, and if you're a military spouse, you might be eligible to complete our program with no out-of-pocket expense.  The U.S. military offers tuition assistance via the MyCAA grant for pharmacy techs and other "portable" careers.  Contact us to learn more today!