US prosecutors open criminal probe of opioid makers, distributors

Federal investigators in Brooklyn already sent subpoenas to four pharmaceutical firms and two drug distributors.

    The US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York has launched an opioid inquiry focusing on six companies [Carlo Allegri/Reuters]
    The US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York has launched an opioid inquiry focusing on six companies [Carlo Allegri/Reuters]

    Federal prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into whether pharmaceutical companies intentionally allowed opioid painkillers to flood US communities, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter.

    At least six companies have received grand-jury subpoenas from the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York.

    The Journal reported that the list includes Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd, Mallinckrodt Plc, Johnson & Johnson and Amneal Pharmaceuticals Inc, in addition to distributors AmerisourceBergen Corp and McKesson Corp.

    Shares of Amneal, Teva and McKesson fell between 3 and 7 percent, while AmerisourceBergen and Mallinckrodt were down marginally.

    More:

    The subpoenas were in connection with a Brooklyn federal probe, but a spokesman for the that US Attorney's Office declined to comment.

    The probe is in its early stages and prosecutors are expected to send subpoenas to other companies in the coming months, the report said, citing one of the sources.

    Turning the tide

    The drug companies being investigated did not immediately respond to Reuters' requests for comment.

    However, Teva, J&J, Amneal and Mallinckrodt did disclose in recent regulatory filings that they had received subpoenas from the US Attorney's Office in Brooklyn, which the companies described as regarding their distribution of opioid medications, as well as anti-diversion policies to prevent unauthorised drug sales.

    The companies also said it was part of a broader investigation into monitoring programmes that manufacturers and distributors must run under the Controlled Substances Act.

    Teva, Mallinckrodt and J&J also said they had received subpoenas from the New York State Department of Financial Services as part of an industry-wide inquiry into the effect of opioid prescriptions on New York health insurance premiums.

    Opioid manufacturers, distributors and pharmacy chains have been defending themselves against thousands of lawsuits by state attorneys general, local governments and class actions accusing them of driving an addiction crisis.

    Opioids have contributed to more than 400,000 deaths in the US since 1997, according to government statistics.

    Meanwhile on Tuesday, US First Lady Melania Trump spoke about opioid addiction at the B'More Youth Summit co-hosted by the US Drug Enforcement Administration to promote drug awareness.

    "Hello, everyone," she said, trying to talk through sustained boos at the start of her brief remarks at the UMBC Event Center in Baltimore, Maryland.

    The jeering subsided, then restarted as she concluded by telling the audience: "Wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving. May God bless you, your families and the United States of America."

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency