U.S. drug agency suspends Louisiana distributor over opioid sales

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said on Friday it had suspended a Louisiana pharmaceutical distributor from selling controlled substances for allegedly selling unusually large quantities of opioids to pharmacies without reporting the sales.

The DEA said it suspended Morris & Dickson Co, a privately owned drug wholesaler based in Shreveport, on Wednesday after an investigation showed “it failed to properly identify large suspicious orders for controlled substances sold to independent pharmacies with questionable need for the drugs.”

“Opioid distributors have a legal obligation not to facilitate the illicit diversion of drugs,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in the statement by the DEA, which is part of the U.S. Justice Department.

“That obligation has never been more important than it is right now as we face the deadliest drug crisis in American history,” Sessions said.

Morris & Dickson filed in federal court on Thursday for an injunction against the suspension, and U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Foote in Shreveport has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday on its request for a temporary restraining order, according to court records.

The probe, which focused on purchases of Oxycodone and Hydrocodone, showed that in some cases, pharmacies were allowed to buy as much as six times the quantity of narcotics they would normally order, the DEA statement said.

Family-owned Morris & Dickson was founded in 1841 and is the largest independently owned and privately held drug wholesale distributor in the United States, according to its court filing.

The U.S. government is trying to crack down on opioid abuse through a number of measures, including a proposal last month to tighten rules governing the amount of prescription opioid painkillers that drugmakers can manufacture in a given year.

Sessions has created an opioid task force and deployed prosecutors to hard-hit areas of the country with a mandate to bring more cases against traffickers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42,000 people died nationwide from opioid overdoses in 2016, the last year with publicly available data.

Reporting by Eric Walsh, additional reporting by Nate Raymond in New York, editing by G Crosse