Drug company, 4 people indicted in US painkiller probe

Drug company, 4 people indicted in US painkiller probe

July 19th, 2019 by Associated Press in Breaking News

CINCINNATI (AP) — A wholesale drug distributor linked to the flood of opioids into Appalachia and two of its former executives were charged with conspiring to illegally distribute millions of painkiller pills, federal authorities said Thursday.

The former executives of Ohio-based Miami-Luken — the president and compliance officer — along with two pharmacists in West Virginia were indicted by a federal grand jury in Cincinnati, said U.S. Attorney Benjamin Glassman. The conspiracy allegedly involved pharmacies from Portsmouth, Ohio, along the Ohio River to rural towns through West Virginia and Kentucky, a region particularly hard-hit by painkiller overprescribing and overuse.

Glassman said authorities mean to "hold accountable" anyone criminally involved at any point in drug distribution.

"If you are intentionally violating the law, you can and should and will face justice regardless of where you are," Glassman said. "Whether you are on the street corner or in a boardroom."

Prescription opioid statistics made public this week underscored how pill distribution soared as the nation's overdose epidemic grew.

Miami-Luken distributed 120 million pills from 2006 through 2012, according to newly public federal data published by The Washington Post.

An Associated Press analysis found that 11.4 million of those pills, or nearly 10%, went to Mingo County, West Virginia, an area with a population of about 24,000. The company was the top opioid pill distributor in the county over that stretch; it was in the top five of only one neighboring county, Kentucky's Martin County, where the company distributed 574,000 pills over that span.

Richard Blake, an attorney who has previously represented Miami-Luken, said Thursday he was unaware of the charges.

There was no answer Thursday at the phone number listed for the company in Springboro, a suburban city 18 miles (29 kilometers) south of Dayton. The Dayton Daily News reported earlier this year that the company was in the process of dissolving amid mounting legal problems

Miami-Luken has been named in lawsuits pending before a federal judge in Cleveland. More than 2,000 state, local and tribal governments have sued members of the drug industry. West Virginia's attorney general in 2016 settled a lawsuit for $2.5 million against Miami-Luken, resolving allegations that the company failed to detect, report and stop the flood of suspicious drug orders into the state.

As part of the settlement, Miami-Luken was required to report suspicious orders to West Virginia State Police and the attorney general's office within 72 hours of discovering them.

"Today's announcement represents yet another step in law enforcement's continuing effort to fight this epidemic," West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said in a statement.

Federal authorities identified the indicted as:

— Miami-Luken's former president, Anthony Rattini, 71, of Colorado Springs, Colorado.

— Miami-Luken's former compliance officer, James Barclay, 72, of Springboro.

— Samuel "Randy" Ballengee, 54, of Lovely, Kentucky, identified as a pharmacist who owned Tug Valley Pharmacy in Williamson, West Virginia.

— Devonna Miller-West, 49, of Oceana, West Virginia, identified as a pharmacist who owned Westside Pharmacy.

Barclay remained at large Thursday, Glassman said, while the other three were arrested without incident and will face a court appearance in Cincinnati later this month. They each face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Investigators have said that as early as 2011, Miami-Luken was aware that the Westside Pharmacy in Oceana (population 1,394) was filling prescriptions for doctors located hours away, and that a large number of prescriptions for hydrocodone and oxycodone were paid for with cash. Yet, congressional findings said the company continued to supply the pharmacy with more than 3.36 million opioids over the next four years.

Glassman said Miami-Luken allegedly distributed more than 3.7 million hydrocodone pills in 2008-2011 to an unnamed pharmacy in Kermit, West Virginia (population around 400).

Several other pharmacies were mentioned but not named in the indictment, and Glassman said investigations are continuing across the region.

"It looks like a war zone down here," Perry County, Kentucky, Sheriff Joseph Engle said Wednesday after release of federal data showed that on average, 175 pills a year per person were distributed in Perry County during the period covered.


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