The US government on Tuesday filed its first criminal charges against a major drug distributor and company executives over their alleged roles in fueling the nation’s opioid epidemic by putting profits ahead of patients’ safety.
Rochester Drug Cooperative, one of the 10 largest US drug distributors, agreed to pay a $20 million fine and enter a five-year deferred prosecution agreement to resolve charges it turned a blind eye to thousands of suspicious orders for opioids.
“We made mistakes. We accept responsibility for those mistakes.”
RDC spokesman Jeff Eller said in a statement.
Two former RDC executives were also charged, including Laurence Doud, who had been its chief executive for more than 25 years. He was accused of conspiring to distribute illegal narcotics, and conspiring to defraud the United States.
Doud, 75, of New Smyrna, Florida, pleaded not guilty at an afternoon hearing in Manhattan federal court and was released on $500,000 bail.
His lawyer, Derrelle Janey, said Doud “is not the culprit here. We intend to fully defend against these charges.”
Former compliance chief William Pietruszewski, 53, of Oak Ridge, New Jersey, separately pleaded guilty to three criminal counts and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
The case marks a new US effort to curtail the growing number of people addicted to opioids, including oxycodone and other prescription painkillers.
Opioids, including prescription painkillers and heroin, played a role in a record 47,600 US overdose deaths in 2017, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“This country is in the midst of a prescription drug abuse epidemic. This epidemic has been driven by greed. As alleged, Doud cared more about profits than the laws intended to protect human life.”
US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said at a Manhattan news conference.