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Feds sue AmerisourceBergen over 'hundreds of thousands' of alleged opioid violations

Federal prosecutors say the drug wholesaler AmerisourceBergen Corp. failed to report suspicious orders for opioids. The company says the government "cherry picked" possible violations.
Matt Rourke
Federal prosecutors say the drug wholesaler AmerisourceBergen Corp. failed to report suspicious orders for opioids. The company says the government "cherry picked" possible violations.

The U.S. Justice Department is suing one of the nation's largest corporations, drug wholesaler AmerisourceBergen, for allegedly fueling the nation's deadly opioid crisis.

In its complaint, DOJ officials said the company failed to report the diversion of "hundreds of thousands" of prescription opioid medications shipped to pharmacies.

The addiction crisis has killed more than a million people in the U.S., with fatal overdoses claiming 107,000 lives last year alone.

According to the DOJ, AmerisourceBergen and two of its subsidiaries could face penalties running into the billions of dollars.

"Companies distributing opioids are required to report suspicious orders to federal law enforcement," said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, in a statement.

"AmerisourceBergen which sold billions of units of prescription opioids over the past decade repeatedly failed to comply with that requirement," she added.

According to the complaint, AmerisourceBergen executives knew prescription pills shipped to Florida and West Virginia were being diverted and "sold in parking lots for cash."

The DOJ also alleges two people in Colorado who improperly received opioid pills shipped by the company "subsequently died of overdoses."

In a statement, AmerisourceBergen denied any wrongdoing.

The company accused the Justice Department of "cherry picking" alleged problems that existed at a handful of pharmacies out the tens of thousands of pharmacies served by the company.

"AmerisourceBergen verified DEA registration and state board of pharmacy licenses before filling any orders, conducted extensive due diligence into these customers, reported every sale of every controlled substances to the DEA," the company said.

In February 2022, AmerisourceBergen reached a national settlementwith state and local governments, agreeing to pay $6.1 billion to resolve a tsunami of opioid-related lawsuits.

Federal officials say this civil lawsuit against the company is unrelated to that deal.

This action by the DOJ comes at a moment when drug manufacturers, distributors and pharmacy chains have faced a national reckoning over their role marketing and selling highly addictive pain pills.

The DOJ is also currently suing Walmart for alleged opioid violations at its pharmacy chain. Walmart, too, has denied any wrongdoing.

In all, corporations have agreed to pay more than $50 billion in settlements and penalties, money that's expected to fund drug addiction treatment programs across the U.S.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.

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