ARCOS was a secret database. The drug industry and the federal government wanted to maintain that secrecy. ARCOS, for Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System, was established by the Drug Enforcement Administration to track the manufacture and distribution of prescription drugs, including billions of opioid painkillers that have caused a deadly epidemic. Records from this database were made public after a protracted legal battle in federal court, reports the Washington Post. The journey began with lawsuits by drug-ravaged communities, and took the final steps through legal action by the Post and the Charleston, W.Va., Gazette-Mail. The legal team relied on a sole practitioner in Akron, Oh., Karen Lefton.
“The most powerful people in pharmaceutical America didn’t want it released, and a lot of the most powerful people in the Department of Justice didn’t want it released,” Lefton said. “Aside from that, it was a walk in the park.” Karen Lefton made the oral argument to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, whose ruling led to the release of the data. The issue was part of a costly, enormously complicated agglomeration of lawsuits filed against nearly two dozen big drug companies in Cleveland federal court. The plaintiffs are about 2,000 cities, counties, Native American tribes and other local government entities. They accuse drug manufacturers of understating the risks of opioids, and accuse the distributors of failing to monitor suspiciously large orders. U.S. District Judge Dan Polster has urged the parties to settle. He set a trial date of Oct. 21, with two Ohio counties, Cuyahoga and Summit, serving as the bellwether cases representing plaintiffs. Drug makers have denied wrongdoing, saying they were distributing legal drugs intended for patients in legitimate need of pain relief. The Post tells the story of he “epic legal battle” over the database.