Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP

Two former executives and one pharmaceutical company are facing federal criminal charges for their role in the U.S. opioid crisis that has caused hundreds of thousands of overdose deaths. It’s the first time that pharma distributors have directly faced criminal charges for the crisis.

The company in question, Rochester Drug Co-Operative Inc. (RDC), is one of America’s biggest pharma companies. Its former CEO Laurence Doud III and former chief of compliance William Pietruszewski were both charged by the Justice Department in the Southern District of New York with conspiracy to distribute controlled narcotics and conspiracy to defraud the United States. The company as a whole was accused of selling massive amounts of painkillers to pharmacies despite knowing the drugs were going to people who had no legitimate need for them. In addition, RDC and Pietruszewski are charged with failing to file suspicious order reports with the DEA.

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These charges come a week after dozens of medical professionals were arrested across the country for illegally distributing prescriptions for drugs like OxyContin to customers in exchange for money and sex. But

“This prosecution is the first of its kind: executives of a pharmaceutical distributor and the distributor itself have been charged with drug trafficking, trafficking the same drugs that are fueling the opioid epidemic that is ravaging this country,” U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman said in a statement. “Our Office will do everything in its power to combat this epidemic, from street-level dealers to the executives who illegally distribute drugs from their boardrooms.”

Pietruszewski has pled guilty while Doud pled not guilty. They each could face up to life in prison, including a 10 year minimum if found guilty of drug trafficking.

Other major players in the opioid industry are also facing a comeuppance. Members of the Sackler family, whose company Purdue created OxyContin, were recently sued by 600 counties, cities, and Native American tribes for their role in the crisis.

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The charges against the RDC executives stem from the massive increase in orders for oxycodone and fentanyl over a four year period, during which time the executives made huge amounts of money while failing to report any suspicious orders.

From NPR:

Between May 2012 and November 2016, the company received and filled over 1.5 million orders for controlled substances from its pharmacy customers. However, it reported only four suspicious orders to the DEA. According to the complaint, the company failed to report at least 2,000 suspicious orders.

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From SDNY’s filing:

“From 2012 to 2016, RDC’s sales of oxycodone tablets grew from 4.7 million to 42.2 million – an increase of approximately 800 percent – and during the same period RDC’s fentanyl sales grew from approximately 63,000 dosages in 2012 to over 1.3 million in 2016 – an increase of approximately 2,000 percent. During that same time period, Doud’s compensation increased by over 125 percent, growing to over $1.5 million in 2016.”

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RDC has already agreed to pay a $20 million fine and will comply with three years of independent monitoring.

“We made mistakes,” RDC spokesman Jeff Eller said in a statement. “RDC understands that these mistakes, directed by former management, have serious consequences. We accept responsibility for those mistakes. We can do better, we are doing better, and we will do better.”