Blowing the Lid Off Mass Painkiller Distribution and Drug Diversion

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Blowing the Lid Off Mass Painkiller Distribution and Drug Diversion

For at least a decade, the Drug Enforcement Agency waged yet another war on drugs – more or less under the radar. This one was against the wholesale distributors of prescription narcotics. These are the guys who ship drugs from the manufacturer (i.e. Big Pharma) to consumers.

The reason for this is clear – the agency sought to force the companies to “police” their own shipments, so to speak. That would assist the DEA in keeping pills out of the wrong hands before they even got to the pharmacy and clinic level.

Subsequently, many companies did a pretty good job. They refused to distribute suspicious shipments, and alerted the DEA to illegal activity. But as expected, some dropped the ball. Hard.

In a recent expose, The Washington Post identified 13 companies who either knew, or should have known that millions of the drugs they were distributing were ending up on the black market. They gathered this information using documents issued by the DEA or the courts, as well as legal settlements.

In fact, some who were notified by the DEA to suspicious clinics or pharmacies chose to ignore those warnings and ship the drugs anyway. This mass-scale drug diversion took pills away from legitimate patients, and into the hands of illicit users.

Then all of a sudden, the DEA left the field. In fact, by 2013, some DEA officials had begun to block and postpone actions against drug distributors. Former officials told The Washington Post that the paradigm shift harmed the cases against many of these distributors, who had seemingly looked the other way regarding their customers’ illicit activity.

In full disclosure, The Post revealed among the 13 companies were regional and national big-time players, such as McKesson, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, Miami-Luken, KeySource Medical, and even Walgreens.

In response to the findings, DEA acting administrator Chuck Rosenberg had this to say:

“We now have good folks in place and are moving in the right direction.”

Of note, all companies, other than two pending cases, all lost or settled in court. U.S. Attorneys collected fines which totaled more than $286 million.


It’s scary to think that such massive Fortune 25 companies, such as McKesson, were, in essence, involved in drug diversion. The fact that they knowingly turning a blind eye to suspicious and illicit customers – and continuing to supply them – is, in my opinion, nothing short of criminal.

Moreover, we regularly arrest small-time drug distributors/dealers on the streets. If these companies get a pass, then so should they.

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology

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