As the United States continues to endure the worst of the opioid epidemic, the nation has reached the point where it starts asking difficult questions. Like all those who’ve found themselves in crises of various types throughout history, there’s a watershed moment where one pauses, considers their situation, and asks: “Whose fault is this?”
We may finally have a culprit, too. Recently, two former executives of a pharmaceutical distribution company were charged with drug trafficking and defrauding the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). This is the first time Pharma executives have been criminally charged with Opioid-related crimes.
The two executives charged were Lawrence Doud and William Pietruszewski, the former CEO and compliance officer of Rochester Drug Co-Operative. Under their supervision, Rochester Drug Co-Op saw an 800% increase in demand for oxycodone and a 2,000% increase in demand for fentanyl. Even for a large pharmaceutical company, these numbers are outlandish and should have been flagged.
Under US law, companies must report suspicious orders of drugs to the DEA. The massive increase in demand for highly addictive narcotics over a five-year period (2012-2017), should’ve been enough to draw attention. Further suspicious activities included individual customers buying narcotics in bulk, and traveling great distances to make the sale.
Employees of Rochester Drug Co-Op attempted to bring the abnormalities to management’s attention several times throughout the years. One employee recognized the potential issue of defrauding the DEA, and wrote that the large orders of narcotics were like a “stick of dynamite waiting for the DEA to light the fuse.” Unfortunately, their complains fell on deaf ears.
Pietruszewski’s lawyer declined to comment on the charges. Doud’s attorney decried the lawsuits as an attempt to “frame” his client. It is likely Doud will attempt to fight the charges in court.
These lawsuits, closely tied to the pills fueling the opioid epidemic, may represent a change in the industry. Pharmaceutical executives are usually sheltered from any legal consequences associated with their distribution of opioids. These charges may indicate a new wave of legal challenges to Pharma CEOs, seeking to hold them accountable for the ongoing crisis.
Accusations that Big Pharma are one of the principle causes of the epidemic are not new. On a weekly basis, stories break about Purdue Pharma’s aggressive plan to market OxyContin to vulnerable populations. Their idea was to market the pills as quick fixes for chronic pain. They insisted that because the pills were slow release (they take longer to break down in body) they were safe…
So long as you don’t take them long term. But why would you need long-term medication for a chronic condition, right?
Suffice to say, the Food and Drug Administration has launched an inquiry into whether these pills are truly effective long-term.
Whether the charges against the former executives of Rochester Drug Co-Operative will set off a new trend remains to be seen. What is clear is that, regardless of who is guilty, the opioid epidemic is still a huge problem. And resolving it will take everybody’s collective strength.
By Timothy Esteves