HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department claimed in a lawsuit filed Thursday that a major drug wholesaler contributed to the deadly toll from opioids by turning a blind eye to warning signs about suspicious sales to its pharmacy customers.
The 87-page civil enforcement action accuses AmerisourceBergen Corp. and two subsidiaries of failing to properly scrutinize orders for suspicious activity.
It claims the AmerisourceBergen entities "repeatedly refused or negligently failed" to report orders from pharmacy companies they "had reason to know were allowing opioids and other controlled substances to be diverted into illegal channels."
"When drug distributors like AmerisourceBergen fail to alert the DEA of suspicious orders of prescription drugs by pharmacies, they shirk a key obligation in dealing with addictive drugs that can end lives," Cole Finegan, the U.S. attorney in Colorado, said in a release announcing the case had been filed.
AmerisourceBergen, based in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, released a statement in response saying the federal complaint cherry-picked pharmacies among its tens of thousands of customers "while ignoring the absence of action" by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
"Even in these five hand selected examples presented by the DOJ, AmerisourceBergen verified DEA registration and State Board of Pharmacy licenses before filling any orders, conducted extensive due diligence into these customers, reported every sale of every controlled substances to the DEA, and reported suspicious orders of controlled substances to the DEA for every one of these pharmacies -– hundreds of suspicious orders in total," the company said.
Opioids have been linked to more than 500,000 U.S. deaths during the past two decades.
In seeking fines and an injunction, the Justice Department alleged the company committed hundreds of thousands of violations of the U.S. Controlled Substances Act over the past eight years.
Among other things, the complaint describes how AmerisourceBergen's sales representatives were assigned to duties related to identifying illegal diversion of opioids, calling it a conflict of interest that made it more likely red flags would be missed or ignored.
DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in a statement that AmerisourceBergen engaged in "repeated and systemic failures" to report suspicious orders to her agency.