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Rochester Drug Cooperative Faces Federal Criminal Charges Over Role In Opioid Epidemic


Today Rochester Drug Cooperative became the first pharmaceutical distributer to face federal criminal charges for its role in the opioid epidemic. RDC is charged with conspiring to distribute drugs and defrauding the federal government. The charges are a result of a two-year investigation that began after it was found that RDC ignored pill limits for pharmacies and catered to doctors who over-prescribe.

Gary Craig is an investigative reporter with the Democrat and Chronicle newspaper in Rochester, N.Y. Welcome to the program.

GARY CRAIG: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: Give us some background on the lawsuit that led to the two-year investigation. What were the red flags for the Drug Enforcement Administration?

CRAIG: Well, it - you know, it appears the criminal and civil investigation began back in 2017. And you know, what they discovered according to court papers - and RDC has pretty much admitted to this - is that clear warning signs from the pharmacies that RDC distributes to - clear warning signs that they were just sort of excessively pushing out opioids were ignored by RDC or, even when highlighted internally by compliance officers, were not brought to the attention of DEA as required.

CORNISH: What does that mean? What kind of signals are we talking about?

CRAIG: There's a number of them that the federal prosecutors mentioned, things like excessive purchases with cash in some pharmacies, purchases from well out of the region of the pharmacies. And these are opioid purchases we're talking about - excessively high percentages of sales of fentanyl patches and opioid oxycodone painkillers from some pharmacies and some of the larger pharmacies that RDC dealt with. So those are some of the things that the feds highlighted.

CORNISH: Two RDC executives face charges. What are they accused of?

CRAIG: Basically sort of being players in this whole, you know, alleged kind of ignorance or willing ignorance, I should say, of RDC's role in the opioid epidemic, the things we talked about - you know, just sort of closing your eyes to pharmacies that were obviously pushing painkilling prescription meds onto the streets in big numbers. And the allegations are that the former CEO, Larry Doud, and former compliance officer were key in allowing this to happen internally and just ignored all the signs. One has pleaded guilty and is cooperating. And Doud is facing the criminal charges.

CORNISH: You've talked a lot about the pharmacies here. And so I'm wondering, what about them? And what about the doctors making the orders? Are they being held accountable?

CRAIG: Well, it's an interesting relationship. The Rochester Drug Cooperative, as the name obviously implies, is a cooperative. Its very members - sort of voting members, et cetera - are the 1,300 pharmacies to which it distributes medications. So the New York attorney general last month filed lawsuits against a number of pharmaceutical manufacturers and RDC as well, claiming that this sort of breeds almost an incestuous relationship where when your very members or the people who are your entity itself are the ones that are selling the pharmaceuticals, you have less of a willingness to basically do the right thing.

CORNISH: Is this a sign of things to come? I mean, is this setting an important precedent in terms of this being criminal charges?

CRAIG: I would think so. You know, as they clearly highlighted at the news conference today - the federal authorities in Manhattan - that this is the first of its kind. And obviously they've turned a corner with law enforcement as far as making this decision that instead of solely pursuing these things civilly, they're going to now pursue criminally. So I would assume that we would see other federal prosecutions of a similar nature.

CORNISH: Gary Craig is an investigative reporter with the Democrat and Chronicle newspaper. Thanks so much.

CRAIG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.