War on opioids: First-ever criminal charges against pharma distribution company

War on opioids: First-ever criminal charges against pharma distribution company

April 26, 2019

War on opioids: First-ever criminal charges against pharma distribution company

Addiction Substance Abuse

Taking the war against the opioid epidemic a step higher, the federal government, on April 23, 2019, indicted the Rochester Drug Cooperative (RDC) on charges for scheming to supply opioids and defraud the federal government. Despite being the sixth largest drug distributor in the U.S., the company did not declare the thousands of questionable orders of opioids, including those for fentanyl and oxycodone, as mandated by the federal government.

Admitting to the charges, Jeff Eller, RDC spokesperson, said that the company had made mistakes and accepts that they would have to face consequences. He however added that the mistake was on the part of the former management of the company. Laurence Doud, former chief executive, and William Pietruszewski, former chief of compliance, were also booked separately. According to the New York Times, RDC was under the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) scanner since the past two years after it violated a pervious civil settlement related to opioids.

The news comes at a time when the country is reeling under the deadliest wave of opioid overdose crisis. It has been reported that since 1999, more than 700,000 people have died due to drug overdoses with most of them being opioid-related. According to a report by experts, opioid overdose alone could claim another half a million American lives in the next decade, if not curbed in time.

Drug distributors increasingly being blamed

In the past also, drug distributors have faced similar legal trouble in relation to the country’s growing opioid epidemic. Distributor companies like McKesson, Walgreens, and CVS have already been asked to pay millions of dollars as fines for their involvement in the opioid crisis. However, a distributor has been charged with criminal offence, comparable to those used for drug traffickers and dealers, for the first time by the federal government.

According to reports, several other lawsuits have been filed against drug companies across the various states of the U.S. A federal judge in Cleveland had compiled about 1600 lawsuits by various government departments in an attempt to reach a significant legal solution. Moreover, in a recent legal settlement, Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, will have to pay $270 million to the state of Oklahoma as damages for their role in perpetrating the sale of their addictive painkiller, leading to the opioid menace.

Improved access to substance abuse treatment needed

Considering the number of people battling an addiction to opioids, their access to treatment is limited. According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated 20.7 million people, aged 12 years and over, needed substance abuse treatment, however, only 4 million received this in the past year. The reasons for this inability to receive treatment varied from denial, affordability, negative effect on job, social stigma, lack of knowledge about where to access treatment to the inability to find a suitable substance abuse treatment plan.

Drug abuse and addiction are major public health concerns warranting the financial involvement of the federal, state and local governments. For a long time, several experts have been asking the government to sanction adequate funds for building treatment infrastructure. However, all these agencies lack the funds needed for this humungous task. Advocates handling the lawsuits against drug distributors are hopeful that the various pending legal settlements would not only hold these organizations accountable for the epidemic, thus curbing future errant behavior, but would also provide the much-needed funds, in the form of fines and damages, to strengthen addiction treatment infrastructure.

Understanding the opioid epidemic and the nexus between manufacturers and distributors

The country’s opioid menace can be categorized into three waves:

  • The first wave started from the late 1990s and continued to the early 2000s. During this period, doctors widely prescribed opioid-based painkillers leading to widespread abuse and addiction. Slowly, the addiction spread from the patients to their families, friends, and even teens who stole the painkillers from their parents.
  • The second wave began in the 2000s with the advent of heroin in the black market. Business boomed for the traffickers and dealers who took advantage of people with opioid addiction looking for a cheaper alternative.
  • The third wave is the fentanyl crisis observed in the recent years. Fentanyl is a cheaper, but more potent substitute for heroin.

The role of the opioid manufactures came into play from the first wave itself. They marketed the opioid-based analgesics as safe leading to a wave of abuse and addiction. Experts believe that companies like Purdue Pharma, Teva, and Endo overstated the safety and benefits of these addictive drugs. They even encouraged the various groups and campaigns that supported the use of opioid painkillers and lobbied policymakers into improving access.

Along with the manufacturers, the distributors also played a major role in accelerating the opioid crisis. They eased the distribution process of the drugs, ensuring that it reached each and every corner of the country. The United States federal law requires the distributors to declare suspected orders of controlled substances, including for opioids, but they simply stood by and remained silent, making billions of dollars in the process.

Seeking substance abuse treatment

Drug overdoses lead to millions of death each year in the U.S. Various government agencies and organizations are trying to make the players i.e. the makers and distributors accountable for the country’s growing opioid crisis. While filing of criminal charges against such defaulters is a big step in the country’s fight against drugs, it alone is not enough. As a responsible citizen, one needs to actively contribute to the fight by immediately seeking substance abuse treatment, if addicted.

If you or a loved one is battling an addiction and is looking for a licensed drug treatment center, get in touch with the Invictus Health Group. Call our 24/7 drug addiction treatment helpline 866-548-0190 and speak to a member of our team. We offer multiple specialized programs that are customized to suit our patients. These plans are designed by our multidisciplinary medical team keeping in mind the patient’s requirements, medical history, and personal treatment goals. Further, we accept most insurance plans. Chat online to a representative to get your free insurance verification today.

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