Former Drug Company Execs, Pharmacists Arrested for Allegedly Flooding Small Towns With Opioids

Benjamin Glassman (center), United States Attorney of the Southern District of Ohio, speaks during a news conference on July 18, 2019, in Cincinnati.
Photo: AP

Federal officials have indicted two former executives at the pharmaceutical wholesaler Miami-Luken for allegedly distributing millions of opioid pills illegally in rural Appalachia. Two pharmacists have also been charged, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio.

Miami-Luken supplied opiate painkillers like oxycodone and hydrocodone to over 200 pharmacies in Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana and Tennessee, according to the Justice Department. DOJ alleges the drug company should’ve flagged suspicious orders for the Drug Enforcement Agency but instead sold an enormous amount of drugs to communities that were already reeling from the opioid crisis.

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Two of the men charged include Anthony Rattini, 71, from Colorado Springs, Colorado, who was the former president of Miami-Luken, and James Barclay, 72, from Springboro, Ohio, who was the drug company’ former compliance officer. Miami-Luken closed up shop earlier this year but only after raking in roughly $173 million in sales per year between 2008 and 2015, according to the DOJ.

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“Rattini, Barclay and Miami-Luken allegedly ignored obvious signs of abuse by distributing more than 2.3 million oxycodone pills and 2.6 hydrocodone pills to Miller-West’s pharmacy in a town of approximately 1,394 people,” the DOJ said in a statement.

Miami-Luken also allegedly supplied roughly 3.7 million hydrocodone pills to a pharmacy in Kermit, West Virginia, a town of just 400 people.

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The feds also indicted Devonna Miller-West, 49, from West Virginia, who owned a pharmacy called Westside Pharmacy in Oceana, West Virginia, as well as 54-year-old Samuel “Randy” Ballengee, of Lovely, Kentucky, another pharmacist who owned Tug Valley Pharmacy in Williamson, West Virginia.

All four defendants each face up to 20 years in prison.

Miller-West owned two cannabis stores in West Virginia, according to the local Register-Herald newspaper. Medical marijuana is legal in West Virginia though it’s still classed as a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level. It’s not clear if Miller-West’s marijuana businesses have been investigated by the DEA.

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This is the second time that American drug company executives have been charged over the distribution of opioids. Prosecutors in New York indicted two men this past April from the Rochester Drug Cooperative (RDC), the sixth-largest drug distributor in the country. RDC operations manager William Pietruszewski and CEO Laurence F. Doud III are charged with shipping millions of oxycodone pills and synthetic fentanyl that the feds say were suspicious orders.

There finally seems to be a reckoning, however modest, for the pharmaceutical companies that caused so much death and pain in the U.S. over the past two decades. Thankfully, prescription overdoses have dropped in the U.S. to the lowest level since 1990, based on the latest figures that came out this week, but fentanyl overdoses are still killing a lot of people. And it’s making a handful of executives very wealthy.

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“Today’s arrests should be a wake-up call to distributors and pharmacists who are allowing opioid prescription pills to be illegally sold and dispensed from their facilities,” DEA Assistant Administrator John Martin said in a press release to ABC News. “These actions will not be tolerated by the DEA, and they will be brought to justice.”

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About the author

Matt Novak

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog