The Drug Enforcement Administration in the United States has decided to let one of the biggest wholesale drug suppliers continue operating after initially revoking their licenses due to their inadequate monitoring of the delivery of millions of highly addictive painkillers, which have contributed to the opioid epidemic.
Morris & Dickson Co. has agreed to a settlement that includes admitting fault, following stricter reporting guidelines, and giving up one of its two DEA registration certificates. The company, headquartered in Shreveport, Louisiana, with approximately 600 employees and an annual revenue of $4 billion, will also surrender $19 million.
In May of last year, the DEA’s Administrator, Anne Milgram, cancelled Morris & Dickson’s licenses following an inquiry by The Associated Press. The investigation revealed that the fourth-largest drug supplier in the country continued to distribute drugs for almost four years after a federal judge advised the most severe punishment for their nonchalant disregard of regulations designed to prevent opioid misuse.
Judge Charles Dorman stated to the AP that out of all the cases he presided over as a DEA administrative law judge, the violations committed by Morris & Dickson were the most obvious and offensive. He also noted a lack of genuine acknowledgement of their wrongdoing.
The lengthy wait for the order to be issued exposed the issue of the revolving door in Washington. This was brought to light by the AP’s report that Milgram’s chosen deputy at the DEA, Louis Milione, had previously worked as a consultant for Morris & Dickson, Purdue Pharma, and other pharmaceutical companies responsible for the opioid crisis.
During the previous summer, Milione stepped down from the DEA for the second time and rejoined Guidepost Solutions, a private investigation company based in New York. Guidepost has previously provided guidance to pharmaceutical companies and distributors, such as Morris & Dickson. An email inquiring about Morris & Dickson’s current status as a client was not immediately answered by Guidepost.
The DEA admitted that the delay in their final decision was unusually long for the agency. They attributed this delay partly to Morris & Dickson, who requested extensions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and their prolonged negotiations for a settlement.
On Wednesday, Morris & Dickson expressed optimism about potential growth after successfully resolving a case that had put the 182-year-old company in danger of going out of business.
The statement from the company stated that the settlement acknowledged their ongoing and voluntary attempts to strengthen and improve their compliance system over the last five years. They also mentioned that their efforts have been recognized by external parties, who have praised their state-of-the-art compliance program as impressive and beyond reproach.
In a recent statement, the DEA did not provide a reason for retracting its previous directive for Morris & Dickson to stop operating. However, the agency once again criticized the company for disregarding numerous abnormally large requests for hydrocodone and oxycodone.
Katherine Pfaff, spokesperson for the DEA, stated that Morris & Dickson is taking a significant initial action by acknowledging their wrongdoing and compensating for their misconduct. This settlement will guarantee that these irresponsible actions will not persist in the future.
There was no immediate response from either the DEA or Morris & Dickson regarding a comment request.
Although Morris & Dickson has remained operational, multiple pharmacies that it provided with supplies have either shut down, had their DEA licenses revoked, or faced criminal charges.
Judge Dorman noted that Morris & Dickson neglected to report over 12,000 questionable orders to the DEA, including 51 abnormally large orders of opioids from Wilkinson Family Pharmacy located in the outskirts of New Orleans.
Between 2014 and 2017, Wilkinson bought over 4.5 million oxycodone and hydrocodone pills from Morris & Dickson. According to federal prosecutors, during this period, owner Keith Wilkinson illegally laundered more than $345,000 from sales made using fake prescriptions or prescribed by doctors running “pill mills.” In May, he received a six-year prison sentence.
Wilkinson filled a total of 42% of all prescriptions for painkillers within a month, and out of that, 38% were paid for in cash. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) deems it suspicious if a pharmacy’s sales of controlled substances exceed 15% or if cash transactions exceed 9%.
Morris & Dickson did not halt any deliveries to the pharmacy. In a span of three years, it only submitted three reports of potentially questionable orders to the DEA, but none of these led to the suspension of shipments.
Goodman wrote from Miami, while Mustian wrote from New York.
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