The DEA has rescinded a 2023 directive which previously ordered a pharmaceutical company to shutter operations after they were found to have helped perpetuate the nationwide opioid crisis.
Morris & Dickson, a multi-billion dollar Big Pharma giant which has been in business since 1841 will be permitted to continue selling drugs to Americans as per the result of a settlement reached with the DEA on Wednesday. This comes just under a year after the pharmaceutical wholesaler had their license revoked for continuing to produce and distribute suspicious shipments of controlled substances for years after a judge recommended their license be revoked for “cavalier disregard” of controlled substance laws. They also failed to report thousands of shipments of hydrocodone and oxycodone to the DEA.
“Of all the cases I handled as an administrative law judge for the DEA, Morris & Dickson’s violations were the most blatant and egregious,” Judge Charles Dorman told the Associated Press. “In addition, I saw no real acceptance of responsibility for their violations.”
According to the DEA, Morris & Dickson will pay a $19 million fine and submit to heightened reporting requirements for five years as well as forfeit one of their two DEA Certificates of Registration, but they will be permitted to continue producing controlled substances from schedule two to five of the Controlled Substances Act. They also admitted all wrongdoing for their past actions.
“Drug distributors like Morris & Dickson have a responsibility to protect the safety and health of customers and maintain effective controls against diversion of highly addictive controlled substances. At the height of the opioid crisis, Morris & Dickson failed to uphold that responsibility, and turned a blind eye as thousands of unusually large orders for hydrocodone and oxycodone went out the door,” said DEA spokesperson Katherine Pfaff. “Today, Morris & Dickson takes an important first step by admitting wrongdoing and paying for its misconduct, and today’s settlement will ensure that such irresponsible practices will not continue in the future.”
Morris and Dickson’s legal wrongdoing came to light as the result of an Associated Press investigation in 2023 which not only found that the nation’s fourth largest drug distributor was playing it fast and loose with dangerous opioids, but also that the four-year delay in DEA action may have been the result of the so-to-speak “revolving door” between public entities and private companies which can lead to biased decision making at the government level.
In the case of Morris and Dickson one such DEA employee, Louis Milione, spent 21 years working with the DEA in the Office of Diversion Control before retiring in 2017. After that, the Associated Press found that Milione became a consultant for the companies he was previously a regulator of, including Morris and Dickson, who hired him on a $3 million contract to essentially save their ability to produce and supply painkillers after the DEA accused the company of turning a blind eye to large suspicious orders of opioids.
Milione advocated for Morris & Dickson in court to little or no avail as the judge presiding over the case wrote a long scathing 159-page report recommending Morris and Dickson have their license revoked. According to the Associated Press, it was not until four years later when the AP asked the DEA to comment on their investigation into Morris and Dickson that the DEA finally followed through on what the judge recommended and revoked their license, only to reinstate it with this recent order less than a year later.
“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 to the Associated Press in 2023. “The mere fact that its action has been delayed four years just raises red flags. It casts the entire process under grave suspicion.”
Morris & Dickson released a brief statement on their website regarding the DEA’s decision to reverse the original license revocation, choosing to give a very general thank you to the DEA rather than going into specifics about the case.
“Morris & Dickson wants to thank the DEA for their recognition of our extensive efforts over the past five years to expand and improve our compliance system for suspicious order monitoring. We appreciate the DEA’s collaboration with us on our shared commitment to patient safety, and we are pleased that the DEA’s actions acknowledge both our current state-of-the-art compliance program and our commitment to continued enhancements into the future,” Morris & Dickson said.
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