For the first time, a major drug distribution company and several executives are facing criminal charges in New York for their role in the opioid drug crisis, according to NBC News. Among the top drug distributors in the country, Rochester Drug Co-operative was charged with conspiracy to violate narcotics laws, conspiracy to defraud the US, and willfully failing to file suspicious order reports.
Former CEO Laurence Doud III and former chief compliance officer William Pietruszewski have each been charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and conspiracy to defraud the US, and are facing the possibility of life in prison.
Companies like RDC serve as middlemen between individual pharmacies and drug manufacturers. Prosecutors say the company distributed tens of millions of doses of opioids like oxycodone and fentanyl to pharmacies, even when its compliance department found they did not have a legitimate need for them.
The company filed only four reports of suspicious orders between 2012 and 2016, but federal prosecutors now say they company identified 8,300 “potentially suspicious ‘orders of interest,’ including thousands of oxycodone orders,” in the same time period.
The executives ignored red flags from customers, the prosecutors say, including cash payments and out of state travel to buy opioids. Doud is accused of directing the company to accept orders from pharmacies that had been terminated by other distributors.
Employees at RDC said some of the customers were “very suspicious” and described some pharmacies as a “DEA investigation in the making.”
Prosecutors say the company deliberately hid suspicions from the DEA, fearing the loss of key customers.
Between 2012 and 2016, the company’s sales of oxycodone doses skyrocketed from 4.7 million to 42.2 million.
“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 this country,” according to US attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman. “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.”
In 2017, new management at RDC “began making significant changes with a focus on implementing a world-class compliance program,” according to a statement from the company.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 130 Americans die each day from the opioid drug epidemic.