ByTodd Horwitz 

Federal Prosecutors Launch Criminal Probe

Federal prosecutors are investigating six pharmaceutical companies for potential criminal charges in connection with shipping big quantities of opioid painkillers that contributed to a healthcare crisis, according to regulatory filings.

Five companies have received subpoenas from the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York as part of the investigation: drugmakers Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd, Mallinckrodt Plc, Johnson & Johnson and Amneal Pharmaceuticals Inc, and distributor McKesson Corp, regulatory filings showed.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the investigation on Tuesday. The newspaper said the probe was in the early stages and prosecutors were expected to subpoena other companies in the coming months, citing a source.

The investigation marks a significant broadening of the federal government’s focus on pinpointing which parties contributed to the opioid crisis. The Justice Department had already launched a criminal probe into Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, for its part in the epidemic. That investigation examined whether the company failed to report doctors who were illegally prescribing opioids and also the company’s order-monitoring systems, the Journal previously reported. Purdue has been in talks to resolve the probe, according to the Journal.

President Donald Trump has made the fight against opioids a key policy initiative for his administration. The president on Tuesday also said he would give his salary for the third quarter of this year, more than $100,000, to efforts battling the opioid crisis. From 1999 to 2017, nearly 218,000 people died in the United States from overdoses related to prescription opioids, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More subpoenas for the probe, which is still in its early stages, are expected to come. If the investigation turns into criminal charges, it could be the largest prosecution of drug companies said to have been part of the opioid crisis, the Journal reported. Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, buckling under the weight of thousands of lawsuits from states and individuals seeking damages stemming from the epidemic. Shares of Teva, Johnson & Johnson and Merck all fell on the news.

Todd “Bubba” Horwitz