The hammer is beginning to drop on some of those responsible for perpetuating the opioid epidemic currently ravaging the United States. Those included in recent arrests are doctors, pharmacists, nurse practitioners, other medical professionals, and, most recently, drug company CEOs.
Appalachian opioid sting
On Wednesday, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) announced they are charging 31 doctors, seven pharmacists, eight nurse practitioners, and seven other licensed medical professionals in an Appalachian opioid sting.
The area, which spans from northeast Mississippi and into southern New York, is one of the hardest-hit areas as far as opioid abuse and fraud is concerned. Last fall, the DOJ formed the Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force in order to address the abnormally high number of opioid overdoses and deaths in the area.
One indication that the opioid epidemic was being perpetuated within the region was that some pharmacies were filling abnormally large numbers of opioid prescriptions, sometimes over 100 per day. According to a statement from the DOJ, some doctors wrote opioid prescriptions without ever having seen the patient for a physical exam, and one doctor had a makeshift pharmacy set up outside of his waiting room.
Attorney General William Barr said of the opioid sting, “The opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug crisis in American history, and Appalachia has suffered the consequences more than perhaps any other region. But the Department of Justice is doing its part to help end this crisis.”
Drug company CEO arrests
On April 23, prosecutors in New York filed criminal charges against the first drug company and drug company CEOs in relation to the opioid crisis.
Laurence Doud III, former chief executive of Rochester Drug Co-Operative (RDC), and William Pietruszewski, former chief compliance officer, were charged with conspiracy to illegally distribute controlled substances and conspiracy to defraud the United States. Pietruszewski was also charged with willfully failing to report suspicious activity to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Both Doud (75) and Pietruszewski (53) face life in prison.
Between the years of 2012 to 2016, the company’s distribution of oxycodone grew almost nine-fold, from 4.7 million in 2012 to 42.2 million in 2017. RDC’s distribution of fentanyl also grew from 63,000 doses in 2012 to 1.3 million in 2016. During this same time period, Doud’s compensation package grew to $1.5 million per year.
Even when other drug companies terminated their relationships with “red flag” pharmacies, Doud instructed RDC to continue supplying them with opioids. Executives also purposefully concealed illegal activity of suspicious pharmacies, fearing an investigation from the DEA would shut down the pharmacies and result in loss of business for RDC.
Geoffrey S. Berman, US attorney for the Southern District of New York, said of the arrests, “This prosecution is the first of its kind: Executives of a pharmaceutical distributor and the distributor itself have been charged with drug trafficking, trafficking the same drugs that are fueling the opioid epidemic that is ravaging the country. Our office will do everything in its power to combat this epidemic, from street-level dealers to the executives who illegally distribute drugs from their boardrooms.”
Jeff Eller, spokesperson for RDC, said, “We made mistakes…and RDC understands that these mistakes, directed by former management, have serious consequences. We accept responsibility for those mistakes. We can do better, we are doing better, and we will do better.”
As recompense for their crimes, RDC has agreed to admit to the allegations, submit to supervision by an independent monitor, reform its compliance program, and pay a fine of $20 million.