This April, in a landmark case, Rochester Drug Cooperative became the first commercial drug distributor to face federal charges for their role in the opioid crisis. Rochester Drug Cooperative was found to have filled several suspicious orders for opioids and to have turned a blind eye to potential opioid drug abuses.

The opioid crisis in the United States has reached epidemic proportions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 700,000 people died from a drug overdose between 1999 and 2017. In 2017, 68% of the over 70,000 recorded drug overdoses were due to an opioid. It is currently estimated that about 130 Americans die each day from an opioid overdose.

With the growing epidemic and increased awareness of this public health crisis, there is a growing backlash against pharmaceutical companies that make and distribute prescription opioids. The recent case involving Rochester Drug Cooperative resulted in a $20 million fine, and two former top executives with Rochester Drug Cooperative are facing criminal charges for their role in promoting opioid drug abuse. These two former executives are facing up to 15 years in prison for their alleged roles. This case marks the first time that criminal charges have been brought against pharmaceutical executives for their role in the opioid crisis.

While this case with RCD may be the most recent case involving pharmaceutical companies’ involvement in the opioid crisis, it is definitely not the first.  Last year the maker of the pain medication OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, was sued by several states for failing to warn their customers about the potentially dangerous and addictive nature of the medication. In March of 2019, Purdue Pharma reached a settlement with the state of Oklahoma for $270 million. The results of the other lawsuits are pending.

While the pharmaceutical companies are being held responsible for their reckless and illegal actions, some believe this might not help the overall fight against opioid misuse. While large pharmaceutical companies were originally the main providers of opioid-based drugs, most opioid drugs that are misused today are manufactured and supplied illegally. Some people wonder whether holding pharmaceutical companies accountable will have much effect long term.

One benefit to the legal actions taken against companies that operate outside the boundaries of the law is that the money obtained from settlements and fines are often used to fuel the fight against opioid abuse and help to reduce the availability of opioids or help those who are addicted to opioids. The recent federal charges against Rochester Drug Cooperative may not solve the opioid crisis, but it is a step in the right direction.