The Government is Looking for New Ways to Address the Opioid Crisis –
As state and federal officials look for new ways to address the Opioid crisis, a major action was taken in April 2019. Law enforcement officials have long tried to stem the opioid crisis in America with criminal charges for street dealers and cartel kingpins who traffic in drugs like fentanyl and oxycodone.
Now, for the first time, federal authorities are bringing the same kind of felony drug-trafficking charges against a major pharmaceutical distributor and two of its former executives for their role in fanning the crisis.
Prosecutors said the former executives at the company, Rochester Drug Cooperative, ignored red flags and shipped tens of millions of oxycodone pills and fentanyl products to pharmacies they knew were distributing drugs illegally. Their sales soared, as did the compensation of the chief executive.
“Why did they do it?” asked Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney in Manhattan, who announced the charges at a news conference. “Greed.”
Mr. Berman said the case was the first of its kind and vowed his office would “do everything in its power to combat this epidemic, from street-level dealers to the executives who illegally distribute drugs from their boardrooms.”
The government’s novel tactic was expected to reverberate through the pharmaceutical industry, where large corporations and senior executives have long escaped criminal culpability for the epidemic of overdoses from prescription painkillers, like oxycodone.
On Tuesday April 23, 2019, prosecutors charged Rochester Drug Cooperative, or RDC, as a corporate entity with conspiring to distribute drugs, conspiracy to defraud the United States and failing to file suspicious order reports.
But the corporation entered into an agreement under which the government will hold off on prosecuting the company on the charges as long as it pays a $20 million fine, complies with the controlled substances law and submits to five years of supervision by an independent monitor.
As part of the agreement, however, the company, the nation’s sixth-largest distributor, admitted in court papers that it intentionally violated federal narcotics laws by shipping dangerous, highly addictive opioids to pharmacies, knowing that the prescription medicines were being sold and used illicitly.
“We made mistakes,” Jeff Eller, a spokesman for the company, said in a statement. “And RDC understands that these mistakes, directed by former management, have serious consequences.”
The two former company officials, Laurence F. Doud III and William Pietruszewski, were also charged with conspiring to distribute drugs and defrauding the government.
Mr. Pietruszewski, 53, of Oak Ridge, N.J., who was the chief compliance officer, was also charged with failing to file reports to the authorities about suspicious orders for controlled substances. He pleaded guilty last week and is cooperating with prosecutors.
Mr. Doud, 75, the former chief executive officer, pleaded not guilty late Tuesday in United States District Court in Manhattan and was released on a $500,000 bond. If convicted, Mr. Doud faces a mandatory 10-year minimum sentence and a maximum of life in prison.
The charging documents portray a company largely animated by Mr. Doud’s greed. As chief executive, he drove up the sales of oxycodone pills up ninefold over four years, from 4.7 million in 2012 to 42.2 million in 2016.
Fentanyl sales shot up even more over the same period, to 1.3 million doses from 63,000 doses, the documents said. And Mr. Doud’s compensation, tied to the sales, more than doubled, climbing to over $1.5 million.
Dishonest and Complicit Doctors
Dozens of medical professionals in seven states were charged Wednesday, April 17, 2019, with participating in the illegal prescribing of more than 32 million pain pills, including doctors who prosecutors said traded sex for prescriptions and a dentist who unnecessarily pulled teeth from patients to justify giving them opioids.
The 60 people indicted include 31 doctors, seven pharmacists, eight nurse practitioners and seven other licensed medical professionals. The charges stem from the government’s largest prescription-opioid takedown. It involves more than 350,000 illegal prescriptions written in Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia, according to indictments unsealed in federal court in Cincinnati.
“That is the equivalent of one opioid dose for every man, woman and child” in the region, Brian Benczkowski, an assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s criminal division, said in an interview. “If these medical professionals behave like drug dealers, you can rest assured that the Justice Department is going to treat them like drug dealers.”
Over the past two years, Justice Department officials said they have targeted doctors, health-care companies and drug manufacturers and distributors for their roles in the epidemic. Last year, the department charged 162 defendants, including 76 doctors, for their roles in prescribing and distributing opioids and other dangerous narcotics.
The charges include unlawful distribution or dispensing of controlled substances by a medical professional and health-care fraud. Each count carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence, and many of the defendants face multiple counts. One doctor in Tennessee is charged in connection with an overdose death caused by opioids, officials said.
The indictments are part of a broader effort by the Justice Department to combat the nation’s prescription pain pill epidemic, which claimed the lives of nearly 218,000 Americans between 1999 and 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
These are certainly new ways to address the opioid crisis in America and it puts everyone involved with the manufacturing and distribution of these drugs on notice that the government is watching.
The Message is Clear
Under the Trump administration, the message has been clear – no one shall be immune from prosecution and no stone will be left unturned in stemming the flow of these drugs.
In Dayton, Ohio, which has been hit particularly hard, a doctor who authorities say was the state’s highest prescriber of controlled substances, along with several pharmacists, was charged with operating a “pill mill.” Prosecutors say that the health-care professionals dispensed more than 1.7 million pills between October 2015 and October 2017.
In Tennessee, a doctor who branded himself the “Rock Doc,” allegedly prescribed dangerous combinations of opioids and benzodiazepines, sometimes in exchange for sexual favors. Over the course of three years, prosecutors say he prescribed nearly 500,000 hydrocodone pills, 300,000 oxycodone pills, 1,500 fentanyl patches and more than 600,000 benzodiazepines.
In Alabama, a doctor allegedly recruited prostitutes and other young women to become patients at his clinic and allowed them to use drugs at his home, prosecutors said. Another Alabama doctor allegedly prescribed opioids in high doses and charged a “concierge fee” of $600 per year to be one of his patients.