Within the context of all the misery and suffering brought on by the opioid epidemic, the filing of criminal charges against another drug trafficker may not seem like a big deal.
But a case that surfaced last week in New York takes a significant leap in casting executives of drug manufacturers and distributors in the light that much of the public sees them - as simple drug dealers, not unlike the ones that Huntington police arrest and charge all the time.
Only in the case of the drug company executives, the volume of pills used illicitly can far exceed the drugs purveyed by the common street dealer.
In the New York case, Laurence Doud III, the retired CEO of the Rochester Drug Co-Operative, was arraigned last week on two counts of conspiracy related to drug trafficking. According to prosecutors, Doud is the first drug industry executive or former executive to face drug-trafficking charges.
If the charges leveled against Doud are true, then calling his activities drug trafficking appears to be justified. Prosecutors say he turned his small New York firm into a supplier of last resort for independent pharmacies whose dubious practices got them cut off by other distributors, an indictment unsealed Tuesday alleges.
Although Doud claims he is being used as a scapegoat to cover up wrongdoing by others, data trotted out by prosecutors certainly suggest something was awry at Doud's company during the last few years.
According to prosecutors and an Associated Press report, from 2012 to 2016, Rochester's sales of oxycodone tablets skyrocketed from 4.7 million to 42.2 million - an increase of about 800% - and its fentanyl sales soared from approximately 63,000 dosages in 2012 to more than 1.3 million in 2016. During the same period, the company's internal compliance office flagged 8,300 orders but reported just four to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
An internal alert system flagged about 7,800 orders that exceeded a monthly purchase threshold, but the company still filled most of them without contacting the pharmacy or reporting the activity to the DEA, according to court papers filed with Doud's indictment.
To date, much of the litigation blaming the prescription drug manufacturing and distribution industry for this nation's opioid crisis has taken place in civil court. That's the case for many local governments in the Tri-State area who are seeking damages from the drug companies for the costs they've suffered in coping with deaths and overdoses over the last decade-plus.
But it is refreshing to think that at least one set of prosecutors is willing to take a case into the criminal realm if they think an individual should be held accountable for what appear to be reckless actions. Perhaps big company executives will be more attuned to obeying the law - and preventing abuses of deadly drugs - if they know they will be held personally responsible and perhaps spend time behind bars. Anyone knowingly breaking the law and violating safeguards should be held accountable and face the full wrath of the law.
After all, more than 70,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2017, according to the AP. If that's not criminal, what is?