Following Civil Settlements, Opioid Drugmakers and Distributors Could Face Criminal Charges


Despite a number of settlements and Purdue Pharmaceuticals declaring bankruptcy, there is still a significant amount of litigation aimed at the opioid drugmakers, as well as the companies that distribute the prescriptions.

Multiple companies, including Johnson & Johnson, Amneal Pharmaceuticals, Mallinckrodt and Teva, along with distributors AmerisourceBergen and McKesson, have all received subpoenas from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn. The subpoenas from a grand jury were first reported by The Wall Street Journal. According to the report, the companies are facing questions in a criminal probe regarding their marketing distribution practices related to the sale of opioids.

Opioid addiction in the United States has become an epidemic. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 1999 to 2017, there were nearly a quarter of a million deaths caused by prescription opioid overdoses in the U.S. In 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services officially recognized the crisis and declared a public health emergency.

In July, information from a federal database showed that 76 billion opioid pills were sold in the United States between 2006 and 2012. According to the database, McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen, along with CVS, Walmart and Walgreens were the six largest distributors of opioid pills. According to an analysis of the database data, the number of opioid pills increased by 51% during that six-year period. The number of pills grew from 8.4 billion pills in 2006 to 12.6 billion in 2012. During that time frame, approximately 100,000 people died from opioid-related overdoses. In 2017, opioids were responsible for the deaths of about 47,000 people in the United States.

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The companies named in the Journal’s article have been named in thousands of lawsuits related to the opioid crisis. Most of those lawsuits have been filed by governments seeking financial reimbursement for monies spent on treating opioid addiction, as well as financial costs associated with emergency response to opioid overdoses. Claims in the lawsuits allege that the companies violated the Controlled Substances Act by failing to report and stop shipments of suspicious drug orders.

Distributors AmerisourceBergen, McKesson and Cardinal Health are in the midst of negotiations for a multi-billion settlement over litigation filed against each of the companies for their role in distributing opioid drugs across the country.

Johnson & Johnson and Teva both told ABC News that their drug monitoring practices complied with the law. J&J said monitoring data shows the company’s opioids were “rarely diverted or abused,” ABC said. Earlier this year, Johnson & Johnson paid out $20 million to two Ohio counties to settle opioid claims.

There have been some criminal charges already filed against opioid-related distributors. In April, the government filed criminal charges against executives at the Rochester Drug Co-Operative, Inc. (RDC), one of the 10 largest pharmaceutical distributors in the United States for their roles in distributing opioid medications. According to the government charges, from 2012 through March 2017, RDC violated federal narcotics laws by distributing dangerous, highly addictive opioids to pharmacy customers that it knew were being sold and used illicitly.

Also this year, charges were brought against former executives of the now-shuttered Miami-Luken, a pharmaceutical distributor. In June, four former executives were indicted on conspiracy charges for providing opioid medications, such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, to more than 200 pharmacies across West Virginia, Ohio, Tennessee and Indiana. The four executives distributed the drugs “outside the scope of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose,” U.S. Attorney Benjamin Glassman said, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer.

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