Rochester Drug Cooperative was charged on Tuesday in federal court—marking the first time a pharmaceutical distributor has been charged for its alleged role in worsening the nation's opioid crisis, the New York Times reports. RDC and two of its former executives are accused of supplying pharmacies with "dubious" practices, including shipping opioids to pharmacies knowing they would be distributed illicitly and fulfilling orders from pharmacies that ordered too much and "catered to doctors who ran pill mills," per the Times. The charges stem from a two-year DEA investigation into the company, the nation's sixth-largest distributor, after it violated the terms of a settlement for a civil case in which it admitted to failing to report suspicious pharmacy orders.
"This prosecution is the first of its kind: Executives of a pharmaceutical distributor and the distributor itself have been charged with drug trafficking—trafficking the same drugs that are fueling the opioid epidemic that is ravaging this country," a US attorney said at a press conference announcing the charges, per the AP. "Our office will do everything in its power to combat this epidemic, from street-level dealers to the executives who illegally distribute drugs from their boardrooms." RDC was charged with conspiring to distribute drugs and defrauding the government, but under a deferred prosecution agreement, it admitted to intentionally violating federal narcotics laws and it can continue to operate as long as it sets new standards of conduct, pays a $20 million fine, complies with the law, and is supervised for five years by an independent monitor. One of the former officials also charged pleaded guilty and is cooperating; the other appeared in court Tuesday. (More on him and the charges against him here.)