After years of delay, DEA revokes drug distributor\’s license over opioid crisis failures

The US Drug Enforcement Administration has stripped one of the nation\’s largest pharmaceutical distributors of its license to sell highly addictive painkillers after it ruled that it failed to report thousands of suspicious, high-volume orders to the hei…



May 26, 2023, 9:10 AM ET

5 minute read

The US Drug Enforcement Administration on Friday stripped one of the nation\’s largest drug distributors of its license to sell highly addictive painkillers after ruling it failed to report thousands of suspicious orders at the height of the opioid crisis.

The action against Morris & Dickson Co. which threatens to bankrupt it comes two days after an Associated Press investigation found the DEA allowed the company to continue shipping drugs for nearly four years after a judge had recommended more severe punishment for his contemptuous disregard of regulations designed to prevent opioid abuse.

The DEA acknowledged that the time it took to issue its final decision was longer than normal for the agency, but accused Morris & Dickson in part of delaying the process by asking for delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the his long search for a deal that the agency said it had been considering. The order becomes effective in 90 days, allowing more time to negotiate a deal.

DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in the 68-page order that Morris & Dickson did not accept full responsibility for its past actions, which included shipping 12,000 unusually large orders of opioids to pharmacies and hospitals between 2014 and 2018. During this period, the company filed only three reports of suspicious orders with the DEA.

Milgram specifically cited then-President Paul Dickson Sr.\’s testimony in 2019 that the company\’s compliance program was damn good and he didn\’t think a single person was harmed by (their) drugs.

Those statements from the president of a family business so strongly miss the point of requirements for a DEA registrant, he wrote. Her acceptance of responsibility did not demonstrate that she or her principals understood the full extent of their wrongdoing … and the potential harm it caused.\”

Morris & Dickson, based in Shreveport, Louisiana, traces its roots back to the 1840s, when its namesake founder arrived from Wales and placed an ad in a local newspaper selling medicines. It has since grown into the nation\’s fourth-largest wholesale drug distributor, with annual revenues of $4 billion and nearly 600 employees serving pharmacies and hospitals in 29 states.

In a statement, the company said it had invested millions of dollars in recent years to revamp its compliance systems and appeared to be holding hopes for a deal.

Morris & Dickson is grateful to the DEA administrator for delaying the effective date of the order to allow time to resolve these old issues, it said. We remain confident that we can achieve an outcome that safeguards the supply chain for all of our healthcare partners and the communities they serve. … Business will continue as usual and orders will continue to be processed on time.

Morris & Dickson\’s much larger competitors, a trio of pharmaceutical distributors known as the Big Three, have already agreed to pay the federal government more than $1 billion in fines and penalties to resolve similar violations. Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen and McKesson also agreed to pay $21 billion over 18 years to resolve the grievances as part of a nationwide settlement.

While Morris & Dickson wasn\’t the only drug distributor the DEA accused of fueling the opioid crisis, it was unique in its willingness to challenge those allegations in DEA Administrative Court.

In a scathing recommendation in 2019, administrative law judge Charles W. Dorman said that Morris & Dickson\’s argument that he changed his ways was too little, too late.

Anything less than the most severe punishment, the judge said, would communicate to DEA registrants that despite their transgressions, no matter how egregious, they will receive a simple slap on the wrist and a second chance as long as they acknowledge their sins and swear not to. sin more.

But as the next several years passed, neither the Biden-appointed Milgram nor her two predecessors took any enforcement action. Previous DEA officials told the AP such decisions usually take no more than two years.

As the pills continued to flow, Morris & Dickson attempted to avoid punishment, appealing directly to Milgram to order a reopening of the proceedings, claiming he would introduce new evidence showing they implemented an ideal compliance program with the help of a consultant who is now second in command at the DEA, Louis Milione. The DEA said that Milione has retired from all agency activities related to Morris & Dickson.

Milione retired from the DEA in 2017 after a 21-year career that included two years leading the division that controls the sale of addictive narcotics. Like dozens of colleagues in the DEA\’s powerful but little-known Office of Diversion Control, he went to work as a consultant for some of the very companies he was tasked with regulating.

Milione was hired by Morris & Dickson in 2018 as part of a $3 million contract and later testified that the company spared no expense in reviewing its compliance systems, canceling suspicious orders and sending daily emails to the DEA explaining his actions.

A footnote to the DEA order Friday says that since Milione returned to the DEA as principal deputy administrator in 2021, he has had no contact with Milgram or other agency personnel about the Morris & Dickson case due to his previous involvement with the company.


Goodman reported from Miami, Mustian from New York. Contact AP\’s Global Investigative Team at

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