The Justice Department on Thursday filed a civil lawsuit against AmerisourceBergen Corp., one of the nation's largest drug distributors,, alleging that it failed to report "at least hundreds of thousands" suspicious opioid orders to the Drug Enforcement Administration, reports Politico. Under the Controlled Substances Act, pharmaceutical distributors must monitor the orders they receive for controlled substances, and are required to flag DEA on any that they deem suspicious. DOJ says AmerisourceBergen repeatedly failed to do so since 2014, despite being made aware of significant "red flags" at pharmacies across the IU.S. “In the midst of a catastrophic opioid epidemic, AmerisourceBergen allegedly altered its internal systems in a way that reduced the number of orders that would be flagged as suspicious,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “In short, the government’s complaint alleges that for years AmerisourceBergen prioritized profits over its legal obligations and over Americans’ well-being.” According to DOJ, AmerisourceBergen knew that drugs being sent to two pharmacies in Florida and West Virginia were likely being sold in parking lots for cash, which was described by an AmerisourceBergen employee, said New Jersey U.S. Attorney Philip Sellinger.
In New Jersey, the company knowingly sent drugs to a pharmacy that has pleaded guilty to "unlawfully selling controlled substances," and one pharmacist in charge had been indicted on charges of drug diversion. In Colorado, AmerisourceBergen supplied a pharmacy where they identified 11 patients as potential "drug addicts" with illegitimate prescriptions. AmerisourceBergen contends that the lawsuit focuses too heavily on these five pharmacies, which it alleges were “cherry picked” out of tens of thousands it works with. If found liable, AmerisourceBergen could face substantial civil penalties "potentially totaling billions of dollars" Gupta said. Amerisource has already paid $6.1 billion to settle thousands of lawsuits in February, while also being one of three companies named in a $400 million settlement paid to the state of West Virginia in August. The suit comes as the opioid crisis continues. In 2021, more than 107,000 people died from overdoses in the U.S., with over 71,000 of those from synthetic opioids like fentanyl.