For the first time ever, a large pharmaceutical company is being held legally accountable for its contribution to the opioid crisis sweeping the U.S., The New York Times reports. The Rochester Drug Cooperative is the country's sixth-largest pharmaceutical distributor and faced charges on Tuesday for committing fraud against the federal government and plotting to distribute drugs.
In addition, two former company executives will face charges in the case brought by the Manhattan U.S. attorney's office.
The groundbreaking criminal charges signal a new approach from the government to fight the growing prescription painkiller addiction epidemic. Federal prosecutors applied the same criminal statutes used to charge cartel chiefs and street drug dealers for trafficking oxycodone and fentanyl to the pharmaceutical distributor and its former officials.
The charges come as a result of a two-year federal Drug Enforcement Administration investigation after the Rochester Drug Cooperative failed to follow the terms of a civil settlement. In a civil case, the distributor admitted that for years it had failed to disclose thousands of dubious opioid orders from pharmacies—many of which went above order limits and helped doctors run illegal drug businesses.
On Tuesday, acting chief executive of the company John Kinney attended a brief court proceeding on behalf of the company at the United States District Court in Manhattan. He signed a deferred prosecution agreement, essentially admitting that the company committed the crimes, and both the agreement and a civil consent decree received approval from the judge.
According to a court document, both the decree and the agreement will permit the Rochester Drug Cooperative to continue business and reevaluate its standards and practices.
“We made mistakes,” said company spokesman Jeff Eller, “and RDC understands that these mistakes, directed by former management, have serious consequences.”