After years of delay, DEA revokes drug distributor’s license over opioid crisis failures – The Denver Post

By JOSHUA GOODMAN and JIM MUSTIAN (Associated Press)

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration revoked one of the nation’s largest drug distributors its license to sell highly addictive painkillers on Friday after determining it failed to report thousands of suspicious orders at most. on the heels of the opioid crisis.

The lawsuit against Morris & Dickson Co. threatening to put it 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 recommended the harshest sentence for his “cavalant contempt”. » rules aimed at preventing the abuse of opioids.

The DEA acknowledged that the time it took to issue its final decision was “longer than usual for the agency”, but partly blamed Morris & Dickson for delaying the process by looking for delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its long pursuit of a settlement. that the agency says it considered. The order takes effect in 90 days, allowing more time to negotiate a settlement.

DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in the 68-page order that Morris & Dickson had not accepted full responsibility for its past actions, including shipping 12,000 unusually large orders of opioids. to pharmacies and hospitals between 2014 and 2018. During that time, the company filed just three suspicious order reports with the DEA.

Milgram specifically cited then-Chairman Paul Dickson Sr.’s testimony in 2019 that the company’s compliance program was “dang good” and he didn’t believe “a single person was hurt.” by (their) drugs”.

“These statements from the president of a family business so completely miss the requirements of a DEA enrollee,” she wrote. “Her acceptance of responsibility did not prove that she or her leaders understood the full extent of their wrongdoings … and the potential harm they caused.”

Morris & Dickson, based in Shreveport, Louisiana, traces its roots to 1840, when its namesake founder arrived from Wales and placed an ad in a local newspaper selling drugs. It has since become the nation’s fourth-largest wholesale drug distributor, 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 over the past few years to revamp its compliance systems and appeared to remain hopeful of a settlement.

“Morris & Dickson is grateful to the DEA Administrator for delaying the effective date of the order to allow time to address these old issues,” he said. “We remain confident that we can achieve an outcome that protects the supply chain for all of our healthcare partners and the communities they serve.”

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 settle similar violations. Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen and McKesson also agreed to pay $21 billion over 18 years to resolve the claims in a national settlement.

While Morris & Dickson was not the only drug distributor accused by the DEA of fueling the opioid crisis, it was unique in its willingness to challenge those charges in the DEA’s Administrative Court.

In a scathing recommendation in 2019, Administrative Law Judge Charles W. Dorman said Morris & Dickson’s argument that it had changed its ways was too little, too late.

Anything less than the most severe sentence, the judge said, “would communicate to DEA registrants that despite their transgressions, no matter how gross, they will only get a pat on the wrist and a second chance that they will acknowledge their sins and vow to sin no more.

But in the years that followed, neither Biden-appointed Milgram nor her two predecessors took any enforcement action. Former DEA officials told the AP such decisions usually take no more than two years.

As the pills continued to flow, Morris & Dickson tried to avoid punishment, appealing directly to Milgram to order the proceedings reopened, arguing that he would present new evidence showing that he had implemented a program of “ideal” compliance with the help of a consultant who is now the DEA’s second-in-command, Louis Milione. The DEA said Milione recused himself from all Morris & Dickson-related agency activities.

Milione retired from the DEA in 2017 after a 21-year career, including two years as head of the division 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 went to work as a consultant for some of the same companies he had been tasked with regulating.

Milione was hired by Morris & Dickson in 2018 under a $3 million deal and later said the company “spared no expense” to overhaul its compliance systems, cancel suspicious orders and send daily emails to the DEA explaining its actions.

A footnote from the DEA order on Friday said that since Milione returned to the DEA as Senior Deputy Administrator in 2021, he has had no contact with Milgram or other members of the agency staff about the Morris & Dickson case because of their previous involvement with the firm.


Goodman reported from Miami, Mustian from New York. Contact AP’s global investigative team at Investigative@ap.org.


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