Justice Department sues major drug distributor over opioid epidemic
The Department of Justice (DOJ) sued one of the nation’s largest drug distributors on Thursday, accusing the company of partially fueling the opioid crisis by failing to report hundreds of thousands of suspicious orders.
The civil complaint against AmerisourceBergen, filed in federal court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, asks for potentially billions of dollars in financial penalties against the firm based on alleged violations of the Controlled Substances Act that federal prosecutors say date back to 2014.
“The Department of Justice is committed to holding accountable those who fueled the opioid crisis by flouting the law,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a statement. “Companies distributing opioids are required to report suspicious orders to federal law enforcement. Our complaint alleges that AmerisourceBergen — which sold billions of units of prescription opioids over the past decade — repeatedly failed to comply with that requirement.”
The complaint in particular singles out several pharmacies that prosecutors alleged demonstrate how AmerisourceBergen was aware of “red flags” of their product being diverted to illegal markets, arguing the company continued to sell product anyways and did not properly report the suspicions.
Prosecutors alleged AmerisourceBergen continued to send drugs to two pharmacies even after it became aware their product was likely being sold in parking lots for cash.
The complaint also details AmerisourceBergen’s alleged sales to one pharmacy that pleaded guilty to unlawfully selling controlled substances, another whose pharmacist-in-charge was indicted for alleged drug diversion and another that the company identified was distributing drugs to 11 patients who were potentially addicted to drugs.
AmerisourceBergen pushed back on those examples, arguing the blame should instead be placed on the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
“In each of these examples — which were cherry picked by DOJ from the thousands of pharmacies AmerisourceBergen delivers medicines to be the most incriminating to the company — the DEA received information directly from AmerisourceBergen on the pharmacy and its ordering of controlled substances like opioids,” the company said in a statement.
“And in each case AmerisourceBergen invested time and money to take action before the DEA did,” the statement continued. “Perhaps the most fundamental demonstration of this fact is that the Department of Justice complaint never accuses AmerisourceBergen of delivering opioid based medicines to a pharmacy that the Department of Justice’s own agency — the DEA — had not registered themselves.”
The suit marks the latest attempt by the federal government as well as state and local jurisdictions to pursue claims against the pharmaceutical industry in response to the nation’s opioid crisis.
The DOJ sued Walmart roughly one year ago, accusing the nation’s largest retailer of failing to properly screen for abuse in its prescribing practices. Walmart similarly denied any wrongdoing.
Walmart separately settled with state, local and tribal governments for $3.1 billion last month.
CVS and Walgreens also agreed to collectively pay more than $10 billion to several states earlier this month.
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