Reversal of Decision
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has made the decision to allow Morris & Dickson Co., one of the largest wholesale drug distributors in the country, to continue its operations. This decision comes after an earlier order to strip the company of its licenses due to its failure to adequately monitor the shipment of tens of millions of addictive painkillers that have contributed to the ongoing opioid crisis.
As part of the settlement announced on Wednesday, Morris & Dickson Co. has admitted wrongdoing and agreed to comply with stricter reporting requirements. The company has also surrendered one of its two certificates of registration with the DEA and will forfeit $19 million. The Shreveport, La.-based company, which generates approximately $4 billion in revenue annually and employs around 600 people, has faced severe penalties for its negligence.
The DEA’s decision to revoke both of Morris & Dickson’s licenses last year came after an investigation by The Associated Press revealed that the company continued to ship drugs for nearly four years despite a federal judge’s recommendation for strong penalties. The judge described Morris & Dickson’s actions as a “cavalier disregard” for the regulations in place to prevent opioid abuse. Judge Charles Dorman, who presided over the case, stated that the company’s violations were the most blatant and egregious he had encountered during his time at the DEA.
Delays and Conflicts of Interest
The delay in issuing the revocation order drew attention to the issue of revolving doors in Washington. The AP reported that the DEA’s deputy, Louis Milione, had previously served as a consultant for Morris & Dickson, Purdue Pharma, and other drugmakers implicated in the opioid epidemic. Milione resigned from the DEA for the second time last summer and returned to a private investigative firm that had advised drug manufacturers and distributors, including Morris & Dickson. The company’s current relationship with the investigative firm remains unclear.
Morris & Dickson expressed its relief that the case, which posed a significant threat to the company’s existence, has been resolved. The settlement acknowledges the company’s efforts to improve its compliance system over the past five years. The DEA, in its news release, did not provide a specific reason for reversing its earlier order but criticized Morris & Dickson for its negligence in overseeing large orders of opioids.
Pharmacy Closures and Prosecutions
While Morris & Dickson has managed to continue its operations, several pharmacies it supplied have faced closures, license revocations, and criminal prosecutions. One such pharmacy, the Wilkinson Family Pharmacy in suburban New Orleans, received 51 unusually large orders of opioids from Morris & Dickson between 2014 and 2017. The owner, Keith Wilkinson, laundered over $345,000 from illegal sales made with forged prescriptions or those written by “pill mill” doctors. Wilkinson was sentenced to six years in federal prison in May.
Despite the suspicious nature of Wilkinson’s transactions, Morris & Dickson failed to suspend any shipments to the pharmacy and only filed three suspicious order reports with the DEA over three years. None of these reports led to the suspension of shipments.