The Role of 6 Drug Companies Scrutinized by Prosecutors in Opioid Epidemic

The Role of 6 Drug Companies Scrutinized by Prosecutors in Opioid Epidemic

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have launched a criminal investigation into whether, according to corporate filings and a person familiar with the matter, many large drug manufacturers deliberately skirted laws to facilitate the selling of addictive opioids.

This year, Manhattan and Cincinnati federal prosecutors brought new cases against businesses selling drugs to hospitals, using criminal conspiracy charges generally levied against drug dealers.

In recent regulatory filings, at least six companies reported receiving grand jury summons from Brooklyn federal prosecutors: Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., Johnson & Johnson, AmerisourceBergen Corporation, Mallinckrodt PLC, Amneal Pharmaceuticals Inc., as well as McKesson Corporation.

According to the filings, the subpoenas were sent out as recently as August. The Wall Street Journal first reported the criminal investigation.

Prosecutors from New York’s Eastern District asked the firms to hand over documents related to opioid marketing and sales, the filings said. The subpoenas also requested information on the internal systems and procedures of the companies to deter the abuse of opioid drugs.

Prosecutors investigate whether the companies have breached the Federal Controlled Substances Act, a wide statute that controls the distribution and possession of drugs according to corporate filings, and a person familiar with the investigation. The legislation was used to impose penalties on hospitals that have failed to properly regulate prescription painkillers from entering the black market.

To put criminal charges under the statute, the government must demonstrate that companies or their managers have deliberately avoided compliance with regulations requiring them to flag suspicious orders of opioid medicines.

As deaths from overdoses of opioids have risen in recent years, law enforcement officials across the country have sought criminal prosecution against corporate executives accused of contributing to the epidemic. The Justice Department created a task force last year to pursue prescription opioid manufacturers and distributors.

Opioid prosecutions have become such a problem for the government that, according to people familiar with the office, the U.S. Eastern District Attorney, Richard P. Donoghue, has asked every prosecutor in his criminal division to deal with an opioid prosecution.