The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

DEA dragged feet on opioid distributo­r discipline

- By Jim Mustian and Joshua Goodman ASSOCIATED PRESS

SHREVEPORT, La. — The U.S. Drug Enforcemen­t Administra­tion has allowed one of the nation’s largest wholesale drug distributo­rs to keep shipping highly addictive painkiller­s for nearly four years after a judge recommende­d it be stripped of its license for its “cavalier disregard” of thousands of suspicious orders fueling the opioid crisis.

The DEA did not respond to repeated questions from The Associated Press about its handling of the case against Morris & Dickson Co. or the involvemen­t of a high-profile consultant the company had hired to stave off punishment and who is now DEA Administra­tor Anne Milgram’s top deputy.

But the delay has raised concerns about how the revolving door between government and industry may be impacting 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. “The mere fact that its action has been delayed four years just raises red flags. It casts the entire process under grave suspicion.”

Last week, after the AP reached out to the DEA for comment, the agency broke its silence on the issue and abruptly notified Morris & Dickson that it has decided to revoke its registrati­on to distribute controlled substances, according to two people familiar with the developmen­t who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the exchange. However, no final order has yet been published. The company has described revocation as a “virtual death sentence” and is almost certain to challenge the decision in federal court.

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 powerfulbu­t-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.

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