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Drug Distribution Company Chose Profits Over Human Life, U.S. Attorney Says

Executives from Rochester Drug Co-Operative, a drug distribution company, have been criminally charged in connection with the national opioid epidemic, NBC reports. The company’s former chief executive, Laurence Doud III, and former chief compliance officer, William Pietruszewski, were charged with conspiracy to violate narcotics laws and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. Pietruszewski was also charged with failing to file suspicious order reports with the Drug Enforcement Administration. The charges carry potential life terms for both men.

Rochester Drug Co-Operative is accused of distributing tens of millions of doses of potent opioids to pharmacies without legitimate need. The company’s own compliance department flagged some of the pharmacies, with employees allegedly referring to them as a “DEA investigation in the making.”

U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey S. Berman says that the charges are part of jurisdiction’s commitment to “combat [the opioid] epidemic, from street-level dealers to the executives who illegally distribute drugs from their boardrooms.”

Executives at the company purportedly hid their suspicions about particular pharmacies’ seemingly illegal activities in order to maintain customers. Rochester Drug Co-Operative’s sale of oxycodone grew from 4.7 million to 42.2 million between 2012 and 2016. While Rochester Drug Co-Operative’s actions let more harmful drugs flood the streets, the company’s profits and Doud’s compensation substantially increased.

"Doud cared more about profits than the laws intended to protect human life," Berman said.

Jeff Eller, a spokesperson for Rochester Drug Co-Operative, admitted that the company “made mistakes” under its former leader and that it recognizes that those mistakes have serious consequences.

"One element of the opioid epidemic is a dramatic increase in the volume of prescriptions for opioids and all narcotics," Eller said. …

"We accept responsibility for those mistakes. We can do better, we are doing better, and we will do better.”

Eller’s admission takes some responsibility, but it does not erase the damage felt by those who have lost loved ones to the opioid epidemic. Although Rochester Drug Co-Operative cannot be solely held responsible for the “exploding volume of” opioids on the market, Democrat & Chronicle writes, “it's clear that some of the company's recent success was driven by the nation's epidemic.”

In 2015, Rochester Drug Co-Operative agreed to more than $350,000 in fines for failing to follow reporting regulations for opioid sales.

"Pharmaceutical distributors are supposed to be one of the first lines of defense in the growing oxycodone epidemic," Preet Bharara, then the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement about the settlement.

Rochester Drug Co-Operative’s failure to act as that line of defense had a devastating impact for some. The opioids that continued to make it to market “likely were part of a black market for the drugs.” The Center for Disease Control and Protection estimates that the opioid epidemic 130 lives a day due to overdose. In response to the charges, family members held photos of and posters of the loved ones they have lost to drug addiction outside of the company’s headquarters.


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