Former DEA officials speak out against resolution of 2014 McKesson opioid case: 5 things to know

Two retired Drug Enforcement Administration officials spoke out about the way DEA and Department of Justice attorneys handled a 2014 case against McKesson regarding suspiciously large opioid shipments. The whistle-blowers argued the attorneys folded on the settlement, delivering the drug distributor a slap on the wrist, according to a joint investigative report from CBS' "60 Minutes" and The Washington Post.

David Schiller, former special agent in charge of DEA's Denver field division, who retired in August after 30 years with the agency, and Helen Kaupang, who retired this fall after working with the DEA for 29 years as an investigator and supervisor, both spoke out against the DEA and DOJ's handling of the case against McKesson.

Here are five things to know.

1. In 2014, after two years of investigation by nine DEA field agencies, investigators brought a case against the nation's largest drug distributor for its alleged role in facilitating widespread opioid use and overdose deaths around the nation. Amid the height of the opioid epidemic, McKesson allegedly overlooked suspicious orders of millions of opioids that were being sent to corrupt pharmacies around the nation and ending up on the black market. The DEA whistle-blowers told "60 Minutes" and the Post evidence suggested McKesson deliberately overlooked these orders for the sake of profits.

2. DEA investigators wanted to come down hard on the drug distributor, which employs 76,000 people and nets about $200 billion a year in revenue. In 2008, the company agreed to work harder to reduce the diversion of the opioids it shipped and paid $13.3 million in fines for failing to report huge orders of hydrocodone made by internet pharmacies. Mr. Schiller said he and his team wanted to go for more than $1 billion in fines this time and, most importantly, bring the first-ever criminal case against a drug distributor.

"This is the best case we've ever had against a major distributor in the history of the Drug Enforcement Administration," Mr. Schiller told "60 Minutes" and the Post. "I said, 'How do we not go after the number one organization? In the height of the epidemic, when people are dying everywhere, doesn't somebody have to be held accountable?'"

3. Attorneys with the DOJ and DEA instead negotiated that McKesson would pay a $150 million fine and temporarily suspend controlled substance shipments at four of its 30 distribution centers. While the DEA described the McKesson settlement as a "groundbreaking conclusion to a successful multi-district investigation" in an official statement to the news organizations, Ms. Kaupang said she and her colleagues felt like the system had been "hijacked." The DOJ declined "60 Minutes" and the Post's repeated requests for comment on the story.

4. Geoffrey Hobart, the lead attorney for McKesson, told the Post governmental lawyers never raised the proposition of a $1 billion fine or criminal prosecution when negotiating the 2014 case.

"While I am not privy to any of the government team discussions that may have taken place behind closed doors in this particular settlement, I can tell you that the DEA investigators, the U.S. attorney's offices and others would have had plenty of opportunity to raise their views during the process," Mr. Hobart said. "While individual DEA investigators and agents are entitled to their opinions, their agency may ultimately take a different view."

5. The report from "60 Minutes" and the Post comes after another joint report published in October. The October story featured another DEA whistle-blower and presented evidence that drug industry lobbyists worked with Congress to pass legislation in April 2016 effectively stripping the DEA of its ability to halt suspicious shipments of opioids from drug distributors.

More articles on opioids: 
Addressing a national crisis: 10 things to know about the presidential opioid commission's recommendations 
Seizure drug accelerates post-surgical opioid cessation, study finds 
5 things to know about Kellyanne Conway's role as head of 'opioids cabinet'

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