For years, law enforcement personnel and even our president have proposed applying the death penalty to drug dealers if their buyers overdose. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions even directed federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty "in appropriate cases." Normally, however, that rhetoric is aimed at street-level dealers or your typical drug kingpins pushing illegal substances.
But for the first time ever, an oxycodone distributor has been criminally charged for its role in the opioid crisis. Laurence Doud III, former chief executive of the Rochester Drug Cooperative, turned himself in to federal authorities this week, charged with the kind of drug trafficking crimes normally reserved for street traffickers.
Doud, along with former Rochester chief compliance officer William Pietruszewski and the company itself, have been charged with unlawfully distributing oxycodone and fentanyl, and conspiring to defraud the Drug Enforcement Agency. These are the first criminal charges files against a distributor and its executives for illegal distribution of controlled substances.
"This prosecution is the first of its kind," noted U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman, "executives of a pharmaceutical distributor and the distributor itself have been charged with drug trafficking, trafficking the same drugs that are fueling the opioid epidemic that is ravaging this country. Our Office will do everything in its power to combat this epidemic, from street-level dealers to the executives who illegally distribute drugs from their boardrooms."
According to the Justice Department, Rochester Drug had been distributing opioids to pharmacy customers "that it knew were being sold and used illicitly," and Doud and Pietruszewski directed the company to supply large quantities of oxycodone, fentanyl, and other dangerous opioids "to pharmacy customers that its own compliance personnel determined were dispensing those drugs to individuals who had no legitimate medical need for them."
And some of the quotes from Rochester's employees are pretty damning. Some described some customers as "very suspicious," and called particular pharmacies a "DEA investigation in the making" and "like a stick of dynamite waiting for [the] DEA to light the fuse."
Both Doud and Pietruszewski were charged with one count each of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. While the conspiracy charge could mean a maximum five years in prison, the distribution charge alone carries a mandatory minimum prison term of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life in prison. Pietruszewski is also accused of willfully failing to file suspicious order reports with the DEA.
Whether either man will face the same kind of liability for customer overdoses proposed by the president and former attorney general remains to be seen.