One of the nation's largest wholesale drug distributors, which once employed as a consultant the man who now serves in a top post at the Drug Enforcement Administration, was allowed by the DEA to keep shipping highly addictive painkillers for nearly four years after a judge recommended it be stripped of its license, the Associated Press reports. Questioned about the agency's stance toward Morris & Dickson Co. and the role of the company's former consultant, now principal deputy administrator at DEA, the agency responded to questions from the AP last week by notifying the company that it will finally lose its registration to distribute controlled substances. However, no final order has yet been published.
The four-year delay has raised concerns about how the revolving door between government and industry may be compromising the DEA’s mission to police drug companies blamed for tens of thousands of American overdose deaths. “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. Louis Milione, who was named DEA’s principal deputy administrator in 2021, did not respond to requests for comment. He retired from the DEA in 2017 after a storied 21-year career that included two years leading the division that controls the sale of highly addictive narcotics. Like dozens of colleagues in the DEA’s powerful-but-little-known Office of Diversion Control, he quickly went to work as a consultant for some of the same companies he had been tasked with regulating, including Morris & Dickson. Milione was brought in by Morris & Dickson as part of a $3 million contract to save its registration to supply painkillers after the DEA accused the company in 2018 of failing to flag thousands of suspicious, high-volume orders. An administrative law judge rejected the stalling effort, citing the company's "cavalier disregard" for regulations. Neither Anne Milgram, the DEA's current administrator, nor her two predecessors took any enforcement action since the 2019 recommendation, allowing Morris & Dickson to continue operating even as it pursued a potential settlement. Shreveport, La.-based Morris & Dickson is the nation’s fourth-largest wholesale drug distributor with $4 billion a year in revenue and nearly 600 employees.