One of the largest wholesale drug distributors in the US kept shipping highly addictive painkillers for almost four years even though a judge had recommended that its license be revoked for its “cavalier disregard” of thousands of suspicious orders that fueled the opioid crisis. The DEA seemed to turn a blind eye to this.
In reference to Morris & Dickson, the drug distributor based in Shreveport, federal Administrative Law Judge Charles W. Dorman wrote, “Acceptance of responsibility and evidence of remediation are not get-out-of-jail-free cards that erase the harm caused by years of cavalier disregard. Allowing the respondent to keep its registration would tell distributors that it is acceptable to take a relaxed approach to DEA regulations until they are caught, at which point they only need to throw millions of dollars at the problem to make the DEA go away.”
Finally, four years later, Anne Milgram, the administrator of the DEA, has announced that the agency will strip Morris & Dickson of its license to sell and ship painkillers within the next 90 days if a negotiated settlement is not reached.
So, Why Did It Take So Long?
The Associated Press asked the DEA about this case and the involvement of a high-profile consultant whom Morris & Dickson had hired, who now happens to be Milgram’s top deputy. This delay has raised concerns about the ‘revolving door’ between the government and the pharmaceutical industry and how it might be affecting the DEA’s mission to police drug companies, particularly those pharmaceutical firms at the heart of the devastating opioid epidemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.
According to preliminary federal data published in early May, around 110,000 people died in 2022 alone from drug overdoses. This figure was only slightly higher than the 2021 death toll of 109,179, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had estimated.
“If the DEA had issued its order in a timely manner, one could then credibly believe that its second-in-command was not involved despite an obvious conflict of interest,” said Craig Holman, an ethics expert at the watchdog group Public Citizen in Washington, referring to Anne Milgram’s deputy and former Morris & Dickson consultant. “The mere fact that its action has been delayed for four years just raises red flags. It casts the entire process under grave suspicion.”