The Justice Department filed a civil lawsuit on Tuesday against one of the largest drug distributors in the U.S., AmerisourceBergen Corp., Politico reports. The DOJ alleges that the company failed to report "at least hundreds of thousands" of suspicious opioid orders to the Drug Enforcement Agency.
The Controlled Substances Act requires pharmaceutical distributors to monitor orders for controlled substances and flag any orders that seem suspicious to the DEA. AmerisourceBergen allegedly failed to report suspicious orders repeatedly since 2014, despite being notified of major "red flags" at pharmacies throughout the country, per the civil court filing. The DOJ believes that AmerisourceBergen knowingly sent drugs to at least five pharmacies they knew were engaged in suspicious behavior, including two in Florida and West Virginia where drugs "were likely being sold in parking lots for cash," per Politico.
"In the midst of a catastrophic opioid epidemic, AmerisourceBergen allegedly altered its internal systems in a way that reduced the number of orders that would be flagged as suspicious. And even up to the orders that AmerisourceBergen identified as suspicious, the company routinely failed to report those suspicious orders," Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said during a press call on Thursday.
If the court finds AmerisourceBergen liable, the company could face civil penalties "potentially totaling billions of dollars," Gupta said. The company has already had to pay billions for its role in exasperating the opioid crisis, including $6.1 billion in settlements for thousands of lawsuits in February. The latest lawsuit comes as the opioid epidemic continues to plague the country. In December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report revealing that life expectancy in the U.S. dropped for the second year in a row. Experts attribute this decline to opioid overdoses and the COVID pandemic.