Morris & Dickson, one of the nation’s largest drug distributors, was sued Thursday over claims it fueled a devastating addiction crisis within the Cherokee Nation by failing to stop suspicious shipments of millions of painkillers to a small number of Oklahoma pharmacies.

The malpractice lawsuit was filed by the tribe in Oklahoma state court nearly two weeks after the Drug Enforcement Administration, in a separate matter, announced it would strike the company’s ability to distribute controlled substances unless Morris & Dickson fails to reach a settlement agreement with the agency. The company is fighting this move in federal court, saying the revocation would force the company out of business after 180 years of operation.

The lawsuit filed by the Cherokee Nation alleges that the company failed to flag and report oversized orders for painkillers likely diverted to the illicit market. The result was a public health crisis that led to hundreds of overdose deaths and strained the tribe’s health and welfare system, the lawsuit says. In a statement, Cherokee chief executive Chuck Hoskin Jr. called the company’s sales illegal and reckless.

With this lawsuit, the Cherokee Nation intends to send a clear message that any company or group that threatens the health and well-being of our citizens will be held to account, Hoskin said.

Thursday’s lawsuit was filed on behalf of the entire tribe of 400,000 citizens to recover money spent on treatment related to the opioid crisis.

An established family business in Louisiana, Morris & Dickson is the nation’s fourth-largest wholesale drug distributor, though not as well-known as other distribution companies that helped flood the U.S. with opioid painkillers, fueling a crisis of addiction and overdose that still grips the nation.

The company declined to address the lawsuit, but said in a statement that it takes seriously its commitment to ensure strict compliance with all regulations.

Distributors are required to notify the DEA and withhold drugs if suspicious orders are discovered, a key indication that they are being diverted to the black market. Allegations that Morris & Dickson failed to do so have been well documented.

In 2018, the DEA briefly suspended the company’s ability to sell opioids after an investigation revealed it found no suspicious large orders for oxycodone and hydrocodone placed by independent pharmacies in Louisiana.

The following year, an administrative judge recommended that the DEA revoke the company’s license. But the DEA hasn’t moved to revoke the license through late May, shortly after the Associated Press published an investigation into the unusually long delay.

The DEA, in a 62-page order filed May 26 revoking the company’s license, acknowledged the case had taken longer than normal, but said Morris & Dickson had asked for a postponement of the proceeding due to the coronavirus pandemic. coronavirus and efforts. to reach an agreement. The revocation will not be final for 90 days, so the company has time to reach a potential negotiated settlement.

Morris & Dickson is asking a federal appeals court to stay the revocation, saying the legal process is unconstitutional. A decision is awaited.

In its order, the DEA said Morris & Dickson maintained an inadequate system for tracking suspicious orders. In administrative testimony, the company’s then president, Paul Dickson Sr., said he didn’t think a single person had been harmed by their drugs. The order stated that Dickson’s comments were so off-base as to compromise the agency’s ability to commit the [company] with a registration. The company, in a statement, said it has invested millions to overhaul its compliance systems.

Another twist: Morris & Dickson has hired former DEA official Louis J. Milione as a consultant to help dispute the DEA’s allegations. He returned to the DEA in 2021 and the agency says he has stepped away from Morris & Dickson matters. Some federal agencies have been criticized for not moving fast enough to stop companies flooding the nation with prescription opioids, which have since been replaced by fentanyl as the catalyst for overdose deaths.

The lawsuit filed Thursday offers details about Morris & Dickson’s suspected role in the Oklahoma opioid crisis, where more than 5,200 people have died from drug overdoses from From 2014 to 2020, according to federal data cited in the complaint.

The Cherokee malpractice lawsuit alleges that between 2010 and 2014, Morris & Dickson shipped more than 3.7 million pills to just five pharmacies in Oklahoma counties populated by Cherokee tribal members.

One pharmacy was located in the small town of Roland, Okla, has a population of fewer than 3,500, but received a staggering 774,370 pills in 2013 and 2014, the lawsuit says. Another pharmacy in the same city received 1.5 million pills between 2010 and 2014. According to the lawsuit, the pharmacies were tied to a clinic that dispensed prescriptions to patients traveling from 10 other states.

Indian communities in the US have been devastated by the opioid crisis and have sued drug manufacturers and distributors, as have US states and cities. The Cherokee Nation, based in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, announced in 2021 that it had reached a $75 million deal with the three largest drug distributors: McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen Drug. Lawsuits with CVS, Walgreens and Walmart have also been resolved.

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