After years of delay, DEA revokes drug distributor’s license over opioid crisis failures – Twin Cities
By JOSHUA GOODMAN and JIM MUSTIAN (Associated Press)
The US Drug Enforcement Agency on Friday revoked a license to sell highly addictive painkillers for one of the country’s largest drug dealers after finding the company failed to report thousands of suspicious orders at the height of the opioid crisis.
The lawsuit against Morris & Dickson Co., which threatens to put the company out of business, came two days after an Associated Press investigation found the DEA had allowed the company to continue shipping drugs for nearly four years after a judge had recommended the harshest punishment for his “blatant disregard” of opioid abuse prevention rules.
The DEA acknowledged that the time it took to make its final decision was “longer than usual for the agency,” but blamed Morris & Dickson in part for delaying the process, citing delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic and their protracted effort to reach an agreement, the agency said it had thought about it. The order comes into effect after 90 days, allowing more time to negotiate an agreement.
DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in the 68-page order that Morris & Dickson did not accept full responsibility for its previous actions, which included shipping 12,000 unusually large opioid orders to pharmacies and hospitals between 2014 and 2018. During that time, the company filed lawsuits with only three suspicious order reports to the DEA.
Milgram specifically cited then-President Paul Dickson Sr.’s 2019 statement that the company’s compliance program is “damn good” and he doesn’t think “a single person has been hurt by (their) drugs.”
“These statements by the president of a family-run business completely miss the point of the requirements of a DEA registrant,” she wrote. “Accepting responsibility has not demonstrated that they or their principals understood the full extent of their wrongdoing … and the potential harm it caused.”
Based in Shreveport, Louisiana, Morris & Dickson has its roots in 1840 when the eponymous founder arrived from Wales and placed an ad in a local newspaper selling medicines. Since then, it has grown to become the fourth-largest drug wholesaler in the country, with annual sales of $4 billion and nearly 600 employees serving pharmacies and hospitals in 29 states.
In a statement, the company said it had invested millions of dollars overhauling its compliance systems in recent years and appeared hopeful of an agreement.
“Morris & Dickson is grateful to the DEA Administrator for deferring the effective date of the order to allow time for these old issues to be resolved,” it said. “We remain confident in our ability to achieve an outcome that secures the supply chain for all of our healthcare partners and the communities they serve. … Business continues as usual and orders continue to be shipped on time.”
Morris & Dickson’s much larger competitors, a trio of pharmaceutical distributors known as the “Big Three,” have already agreed to pay the federal government more than $1 billion in fines and penalties to resolve similar violations. Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen and McKesson also agreed to pay $21 billion over 18 years as part of a nationwide settlement to resolve claims.
Although Morris & Dickson wasn’t the only drug dealer the DEA accused of fueling the opioid crisis, the company was unique in its willingness to challenge those allegations in the DEA’s Administrative Court.
In a scathing recommendation in 2019, Administrative Judge Charles W. Dorman said Morris & Dickson’s argument that it had changed its course of action was too little and too late.
Anything less than the most severe penalty, the judge said, “would convey to DEA registrants that despite their transgressions, no matter how egregious, they only get a slap on the wrist and a second chance, so long as they acknowledge their sins and.” make a vow to sin no more.”
But over the next few years, neither Biden’s nominee Milgram nor her two predecessors took any enforcement action. Former DEA officials told the AP such decisions typically take no more than two years.
As the pills kept flowing, Morris & Dickson attempted to evade punishment by approaching Milgram directly to order a retrial, arguing that the company would produce new evidence that, with the help of a consultant, it was a “ideal” compliance program is now DEA Deputy Louis Milione. The DEA said Milione has withdrawn from all agency deals related to Morris & Dickson.
Milione retired from the DEA in 2017 after a 21-year career, including two years as head of the department that controls the sale of highly addictive narcotics. Like dozens of colleagues in the DEA’s powerful but little-known Office of Diversion Control, he served as an advisor to some of the companies he was tasked with regulating.
Hired by Morris & Dickson in 2018 on a $3 million deal, Milione later testified that the company “spared no expense” in overhauling its compliance systems, canceling suspicious orders and emailing daily to the DEA explaining its actions.
A footnote to the DEA’s order on Friday said that Milione has had no contact with Milgram or other agency employees regarding the Morris & Dickson case since returning to the DEA as assistant principal administrator in 2021 due to his previous involvement with the company.
Goodman reported from Miami, Mustian from New York. Contact AP’s global investigative team at email@example.com.
https://www.twincities.com/2023/05/26/after-yearslong-delay-dea-revokes-license-of-drug-distributor-over-opioid-crisis-failures/ After years of delay, DEA revokes drug distributor’s license over opioid crisis failures – Twin Cities