In a landmark case that examined the role of drug distributors in fueling the opioid epidemic, the first pharmaceutical executive found guilty of federal drug trafficking charges was sentenced Wednesday to more than two years in prison, according to Courthouse News Service. Laurence Doud III was convicted last year of narcotics and fraud conspiracy, charges that prosecutors billed as the first of their kind against a pharmaceutical wholesaler and its executives. As CEO of Rochester Drug Cooperative, Doud told employees to ignore red flags that indicated pharmacies were working with dirty doctors, filling sham prescriptions that put oxycodone and fentanyl on the street. Such cases should have been reported to the Drug Enforcement Administration for further investigation, government attorneys said. In the trial, Doud’s attorneys called it a business decision to work with pharmacies that signaled wrongdoing: dispensing opioids at higher than normal amounts, proportions, or doses, or reporting more than roughly 10% of customers paying in cash.
The 79-year-old's 27-month sentence that falls well below the 180 months requested by the government. U.S. District Judge George Daniels allowed Doud’s release pending appeal. In February, Daniels reduced the sentence enhancement by vacating jurors’ finding that Doud had conspired to distribute at least 400 grams of fentanyl. Previewing the anticipated appeal, defense attorneys cited a June 2022 Supreme Court decision, published after Doud’s conviction, ruling that, in prosecutions of doctors accused of running pill mills, the government must prove criminal intent. Between 1999 and 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids are responsible for an increasing percentage of the nearly 1 million deaths from drug overdoses. Doud’s attorneys, who asked to spare him from prison, argued that the government had scapegoated their client, “characterizing Mr. Doud, in essence, as the arbiter of this country’s opioid crisis and seeking to punish him accordingly.” Doud told the judge he never wanted to see anyone hurt by the drugs he sold. “I recognize what a lousy job I did with watching the compliance department, and making sure the rules stuck, and paying attention to the red flags,” he said.