DEA revokes Morris & Dicks distributor’s license over opioid crisis : NPR
The US Drug Enforcement Administration stripped one of the nation’s largest drug distributors of its license to sell highly addictive painkillers Friday after determining it failed to marks thousands of suspicious orders at the height of the opioid crisis.
The action against Morris & Dickson Co. threatening to put her out of business was made two days later by Associated Press investigation found that the DEA allowed the company to keep shipping drugs for nearly four years after a judge recommended the harshest punishment for its “disregard” of rules aimed at preventing abuse of opioids.
The DEA acknowledged that the time it took to issue its final decision was “longer than typical for the agency” but blamed Morris & Dickson in part for holding up the process by seeking delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 19 and its long pursuit for a solution that the agency said it had considered. The order becomes effective in 90 days, allowing more time to negotiate a settlement.
DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in the 68-page order that Morris & Dickson failed to accept full responsibility for its past actions, which included shipping 12,000 unusually large orders of opioids to pharmacies and hospitals between 2014 and 2018. During this time, the company filed only three suspicious order reports with the DEA.
Milgram specifically cited testimony from then-president Paul Dickson Sr. in 2019 that the company’s compliance program was “dang good” and he didn’t think “one person got hurt by (their) drugs”.
“Those statements from the president of a family owned and operated company so miss the point of the DEA registrant requirements,” she wrote. “Her acceptance of responsibility does not prove that she or her principals understand the full extent of their wrongdoing … and the potential harm it caused.”
Morris & Dickson based in Shreveport, Louisiana traces its roots to 1840, when its namesake founder arrived from Wales and placed an ad in a local newspaper selling medicines. It has since become the nation’s fourth largest wholesale drug distributor, with annual revenues of $4 billion and nearly 600 employees serving pharmacies and hospitals in 29 states.
In a statement, the company said it had invested millions of dollars over the past few years to overhaul its compliance systems and appeared to have hope for a solution.
“Morris & Dickson is grateful to the DEA administrator for delaying the effective date of the order to allow time to resolve these old issues,” she said. “We remain confident that we can achieve an outcome that safeguards the supply chain for all of our healthcare partners and the communities they serve.”
Morris & Dickson’s much larger competitors, a trio of pharmaceutical distributors known as the Big Three, have already agreed to pay the federal government more than $1 billion in fines and penalties to settle similar violations. Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen and McKesson also agreed to pay $21 billion over 18 years to settle claims as part of a nationwide settlement.
While Morris & Dickson was not the only drug distributor the DEA accused of fueling the opioid crisis, it was unique in its willingness to challenge those charges in DEA administrative court.
In a scathing recommendation in 2019, Administrative Law Judge Charles W. Dorman said Morris & Dickson’s argument that it changed its ways was too little, too late.
Anything less than the most severe punishment, the judge said, “communicates to DEA registrants that regardless of their transgressions, no matter how egregious, they will receive a simple slap on the wrist and a second a chance until they acknowledge their sins and their promise. so that he does not sin any more”.
But as the following years passed, neither the Biden-nominated Milgram nor its two predecessors took any enforcement action. Past DEA officials told the AP such decisions usually don’t take more than two years.
As the pills continued to come out, Morris & Dickson tried to stop the punishment, appealing directly to Milgram to order the reopening of the proceedings, arguing that it would introduce new evidence showing that she had implemented a program of “ideal” compliance with the help of a consultant who is now second in command at the DEA, Louis Milione. The DEA said Milione recused himself from any agency business related to Morris & Dickson.
Milione retired from the DEA in 2017 after a 21-year career that included two years leading the division that controls the sale of highly addictive narcotics. Like dozens of colleagues in the DEA’s powerful but little-known Office of Diversion Control, he went to work as a consultant for some of the very companies he was tasked with regulating.
Milione was hired by Morris & Dickson in 2018 as part of a $3 million contract and later testified that the company “spared no expense” in reviewing its compliance systems, canceling suspicious orders and sending daily emails to the DEA explaining its actions.
A footnote in the DEA’s order Friday said that since Milione returned to the DEA as deputy principal administrator in 2021, he has had no contact with Milgram or other agency personnel about the Morris & Dickson case because of his previous involvement with the company.