In what could be a test case, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan and the Drug Enforcement Administration are finishing an investigation that appears likely to result in the first criminal case involving a major opioid distributor, Rochester Drug Cooperative, one of the 10 largest.
The case represents a growing realization that the financial muscle driving the spread of prescription opioids in the U.S. comes not from manufacturers but rather distributors — companies that act as middlemen, trucking medications of all kinds from vast warehouses to hospitals, clinics and drugstores, reports the New York Times.
The industry’s giants, Cardinal Health, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen, are among the 15 largest U.S. companies by revenue. Together, they distribute more than 90 percent of the nation’s drug and medical supplies.
New lawsuits filed by attorneys general in New York, Vermont and Washington State accuse distributors of brazenly devising systems to evade regulators.
They allege that the companies warned pharmacies at risk of being reported to the Drug Enforcement Administration and helped others to increase and circumvent limits on how many opioids they were allowed to buy.
Three-fourths of prescriptions at a Queens, N.Y., pharmacy supplied by Amerisource were written by doctors who were later indicted or convicted, the New York suit said. For more than five years, Cardinal shipped to a pharmacy with the highest oxycodone volume in Suffolk County, N.Y., despite flagging its orders as suspicious.
McKesson kept shipping to two pharmacies six years after learning that they had been filling prescriptions from doctors who were likely engaging in crimes. The shipments stopped only last year, after the doctors were indicted.
How do the C.E.O.s of these companies sleep at night?” asks Bob Ferguson, Washington’s attorney general.
The investigation into the Rochester Drug Cooperative began with an examination of possible crimes including wire and mail fraud and various drug violations.