US files first ever criminal charges against major drug distributor

The charges are the first ever brought against a pharmaceutical distributor for drug trafficking in association to country's opioid epidemy

In an unprecedented case, the US government on Tuesday filed its first criminal indictments against a major drug distributor and company executives over their alleged roles in fueling the nation’s opioid epidemic by putting profits ahead of patients’ safety. The US Attorney’s Office in Manhattan charged Rochester Drug Cooperative (RDC), the sixth-largest pharmaceutical distributor in the country, with conspiring to distribute drugs (such as oxycodone, fentanyl and others), defrauding the federal government, and failing to file suspicious order reports.

In addition to the company itself, indictment also named a former chief executive officer and chief of compliance in the indictment, at least one of whom was expected to surrender to Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents on Tuesday.

According to court papers Rochester "made the deliberate decision not to investigate, monitor, and report to the DEA pharmacy customers that it knew were diverting controlled substances for illegitimate use, because it knew that reporting these pharmacies would likely result in the DEA investigating and shutting down its customers". Additionally, Rochester Drug Cooperative's senior management in the face of former CEO Laurence Doud, directed the company's compliance department not to report them, and instead to continue supplying those customers with dangerous controlled substances that the company knew were being dispensed and used for illicit purposes."

The charges open up a new legal front in the government’s battle against the opioid crisis, which claimed the lives of 47,600 UK citizens in 2017 alone, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, making Rochester the first ever company in US history to face criminal charges for its role in the opioid epidemic.

Between May 2012 and November 2016, the distributor reportedly received and filled over 1.5 million orders for controlled substances from its pharmacy customers. However, it reported only four suspicious orders to the DEA. According to the complaint, the company failed to report at least 2,000 suspicious orders.

In a separate civil case, the drug company admitted that it had failed to flag suspicious opioid orders, many of which helped corrupt doctors run pill mills (illicit medical operations where "patients" trade cash – or, sometimes, sexual favors – for prescription drugs).

The company has agreed to settle its civil and criminal charges, the terms of which include a $20m fine and the expansion of its prescription monitoring system. It's unclear exactly how the criminal charges against the two former executives will play out.

"We made mistakes," said Jeff Eller, spokesperson for RDC, "… and RDC understands that these mistakes, directed by former management, have serious consequences."

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