It appears that the DEA looked the other way as one of the nation's largest wholesale drug distributors continued to ship highly addictive painkillers for nearly four years after a judge recommended it be stripped of its license for its "cavalier disregard" of thousands of suspicious orders fueling the opioid crisis.
"Acceptance of responsibility and evidence of remediation are not get-out-of-jail-free cards that erase the harm caused by years of cavalier disregard," federal Administrative Law Judge Charles W. Dorman wrote, referring to Shreveport-based drug distributor Morris & Dickson. "Allowing the respondent to keep its registration would tell distributors that it is acceptable to take a relaxed approach to DEA regulations until they are caught, at which point they only need to throw millions of dollars at the problem to make the DEA go away."
Now, four years later, Anne Milgram, administrator of the DEA is finally announcing that the agency will strip Morris & Dickson of its license to sell and ship painkillers within the next 90 days if a negotiated settlement is not reached.
What Took So Long?
The Associated Press asked the DEA about its handling of the case and the involvement of a high-profile consultant who Morris & Dickson had hired and who now happens to be Milgram's top deputy.
The delay has raised concerns about what is being called the 'revolving door' between the government and the pharmaceutical industry and how it may be impacting the DEA's stated mission to police drug companies, especially those pharmaceutical companies at the center of the devastating opioid epidemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.
Nearly 110,000 people died in 2022 alone, according to preliminary federal data published in early May, a plateau after two years of sharp increases. The preliminary count of 109,680 overdose deaths was only slightly higher than the figure for 2021, when 109,179 people were estimated to have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"If the DEA had issued its order in a timely manner, one could then credibly believe that its second-in-command was not involved despite an obvious conflict of interest," said Craig Holman, an ethics expert at the watchdog group Public Citizen in Washington, referring to Milgram's deputy and former Morris & Dickson consultant. "The mere fact that its action has been delayed four years just raises red flags. It casts the entire process under grave suspicion."