Prosecutors drop opioid charges against former drug distributor, officer

A pharmacist holds prescription painkiller OxyContin made by Purdue Pharma LP at a local pharmacy in Provo
A pharmacist holds prescription painkiller OxyContin made by Purdue Pharma LP at a local pharmacy in Provo, Utah, U.S., April 25, 2017. REUTERS/George Frey
  • Ex-compliance officer James Barclay says he was "scapegoat" for DEA failure
  • Barclay had pleaded guilty in deal that avoided jail time

(Reuters) - Federal prosecutors in Ohio have dropped a criminal charge against a former compliance officer for defunct drug distributor Miami-Luken Inc accused of failing to report a conspiracy to distribute opioid drugs illegally.

The dismissal of the case against James Barclay in Cincinnati federal court came about three weeks after U.S. Attorney Kenneth Parker of the Southern District of Ohio dropped charges against Miami-Luken as well. The move overturns Barclay's December guilty plea to the rarely used charge of misprision of, or failure to report, a felony, which had carried no jail time.

While prosecutors did not say why they were dropping the case in court documents, Barclay's lawyer, William Hughes of Porzio Bromberg & Newman, said Parker's office had reexamined the case brought by a predecessor, Benjamin Glassman, and concluded it was not supported by evidence.

Hughes said he was "very grateful" to Parker for "reexamining this case and dismissing the charges that never should have been brought in the first place."

The U.S. Supreme Court in June ruled that doctors cannot be criminally liable for writing opioid prescriptions if they acted in good faith, potentially making opioid-related prosecutions more difficult. Hughes said he did not believe that ruling was the reason the Miami-Luken case was dropped.

A spokesperson for Parker's office said in a statement that it is "the duty of every prosecutor to constantly review facts, evidence and the law, as each may evolve in any case," and that dismissal was appropriate.

In a letter to the court, Barclay said he had repeatedly contacted the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for guidance about opioid orders, and either received no response or was told that whether to fill an order was purely a "business decision." He also said the DEA had proof from the beginning of its investigation that Barclay lacked any authority to cancel orders personally.

"I was indicted because the DEA failed to do their job, and the government needed a scapegoat after the publicity of the opioid problems in West Virginia," he said.

Prosecutors had alleged in a 2019 indictment that Springboro, Ohio-based Miami-Luken, Barclay and others failed to guard against illegal diversion of opioid pills in five states including West Virginia.

The U.S. opioid epidemic has caused more than 500,000 overdose deaths over two decades, according to government data. It has led to more than 3,000 civil lawsuits by state and local governments against manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies, so far resulting in more than $30 billion in settlements.

The case is United States v. Barclay, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, No. 19-cr-00081.

For the government: Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sheila Lafferty and Nicole Pakiz of the Southern District of Ohio

For Barclay: William Hughes and Sydney Darling of Porzio Bromberg & Newman

(NOTE: This story has been updated with comment from U.S. Attorney Kenneth Parker's office.}

Read more:

Exec for drug co that flooded Appalachia with opioids gets no jail time

U.S. Supreme Court sides with doctors challenging opioid convictions

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Brendan Pierson reports on product liability litigation and on all areas of health care law. He can be reached at