DOJ sues pharma giant for allegedly helping to fuel the opioid epidemic

The Justice Department is suing AmerisourceBergen Corp., accusing the pharmaceutical giant of helping fuel the opioid epidemic by allegedly repeatedly failing to report suspicious orders of opioids for nearly a decade. 

Federal law requires opioid makers to alert the Drug Enforcement Administration to any suspicious orders or “red flags” to help identify pharmacies that divert drugs to illegal avenues. The law also requires makers to refuse to ship orders it deems suspicious. 

The civil complaint, filed in federal court in Philadelphia, alleged AmerisourceBergen and two of its subsidiaries failed to comply with these laws and could have failed to report hundreds of thousands of potentially suspicious orders. 

The company is accused of ignoring alerts from its red flag system and continuing to sell to pharmacies, knowing they might be diverting some prescription drugs to illicit markets. The lawsuit also alleged AmerisourceBergen intentionally altered its own internal monitoring system to limit the alert system. In one year, the company spent more on taxis and office supplies than on the internal monitoring system, the Justice Department said.  

“[T]he company’s repeated and systemic failure to fulfill this simple obligation helped ignite an opioid epidemic that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths over the past decade,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in a news release Thursday. 

AmerisourceBergen’s alleged crimes could be billions of dollars in violations, according to a Justice Department official. 

In a statement, the company said the Justice Department’s lawsuit focuses on five pharmacies that are “cherry picked” out of tens of thousands of pharmacies it works with and ignores the DEA’s “absence of action.” 

“In fact, AmerisourceBergen terminated relationships with four of them before DEA ever took any enforcement action while two of the five pharmacies maintain their DEA controlled substance registration to this day,” the company said. 

Between 1999 to 2020, more than 564,000 people died from an overdose involving opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 80,000 deaths in 2021 involved opioids. 

AmerisourceBergen was part of a $26 billion settlement in 2021 for its role in the opioid crisis. 

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