Douglas Boothe led the generic-drug maker Activis seven years ago when Drug Enforcement Administration agents made an urgent plea: Slash production of an addictive pain medication that was fueling a national crisis. Boothe “wasn’t interested” and rejected the request that the firm voluntarily cut its oxycodone supply to pharmacies, according to exhibits unsealed in a lawsuit accusing companies of recklessly distributing billions of addictive pain pills despite glaring signs of abuse, the Washington Post reports. Boothe is among figures from the generic-drug industry — from high-ranking executives to salesmen to account managers — whose decisions during the height of the opioid epidemic have been thrust into the spotlight.
Purdue Pharma and its owners, the Sackler family, have borne the brunt of criticism for inventing and deceptively marketing the well-known opioid painkiller OxyContin in the 1990s. Records show that by 2006, as the death rate accelerated, a few obscure generic-drug manufacturers were selling the bulk of opioid pills flooding the nation. The documents and a DEA database that tracks every opioid pill sold in the U.S. from 2006 through 2012 were made public after the Post and the owner of the Charleston, W.Va., Gazette-Mail pushed for their release. The database said most of 76 billion opioid pills were shipped by three companies now controlled by large drugmakers: SpecGx, a subsidiary of Ireland-based Mallinckrodt; Par Pharmaceutical, owned by Ireland-based Endo Pharmaceuticals, and Actavis, part of Israel-based Teva Pharmaceutical Industries. Generic-pain-pill makers rushed to gain market share as the drug epidemic spun out of control. Auditors or regulators warned some manufacturers that they were not meeting federal requirements for detecting suspicious orders. The drug companies contend they were trying to sell painkillers to legitimate patients with prescriptions. They blamed overprescribing by physicians, and corrupt doctors and pharmacists in “pill mills” that sold drugs with few questions asked.