It wasn't long ago that the vast underground network of pain pill distribution from Florida to nearby states was dubbed the "Flamingo Express."
Federal agents have been working hard to crack down, arresting doctors and pharmacists with copious pain prescription rolls, busting so-called pill mills and pursuing suspected street distributors.
Now, our Hollywood drug crimes defense attorneys understand that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has set its sights on the shipping companies. In particular, the agency is gunning for accountability from UPS and FedEx.
Specifically, the DEA is targeting orders of prescription drugs filled by online pharmacies, suggesting that the carriers have a responsibility to screen packages and alert federal officials of potential problems. The DEA says both firms have knowingly shipped illegally-prescribed drugs over the course of the last decade, and have failed to take any decisive action to prevent these shipments.
However, the two firms have had vastly different responses to these probes.
On the one hand, UPS agreed to forfeit $40 million it had previously collected for shipments from online pharmacies. It also settled on the implementation of a corporate compliance program, which essentially amounted to barring online pharmacies from using its services.
FedEx, however, has pushed back - hard. The shipping company said that the kind of controls that the DEA is talking about implementing are not only absurd, they are "disturbing." For starters, such action has the potential to threaten the privacy of its customers, said one spokesperson.
The representative further noted that shipping carriers are not law enforcement. They aren't trained to detect which pills are illegal and which aren't, and doing so would be a time-consuming and costly undertaking.
This investigation is only the latest in a host of those brought by the DEA against doctor's offices or companies that distribute or sell prescription pain medications, such as hydrocodone and oxycodone.
In another of these cases, the DEA is squaring off with Walgreens in a criminal federal D.C. courtroom, claiming that the firm's South Florida distribution center has been filling orders for high volumes of prescription painkillers without conducting any kind of internal inquiry about those orders. The firm's distribution center, based in Jupiter, is the top distributor of oxycodone and oxycodone products in the state.
In one case, the DEA reportedly discovered more than 3,200 bottles of oxycodone had been distributed over a 40-day period, despite the fact that the town where the pharmacy was located had just 3,000 residents.
Walgreens has said it is cooperating with the DEA.
Last year, a federal judge in D.C. upheld a similar action from the DEA against a different distribution center in Lakeland.
Even Google hasn't been exempt from the DEA's focus. Last year, the company forked over $500 million in a criminal case, after the U.S. Justice Department had alleged it had knowingly run advertisements from illegal online pharmacies that were based out of the country, but catering to U.S. consumers.
Really, the question comes down to what extent legitimate companies can be held accountable for customer activities.
The only thing that is for certain at this point is that the DEA is not losing steam on this track.
Illegal possession and trafficking of prescription drugs are serious offenses that can carry long-term prison sentences. If you are arrested, consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer before offering any statement to law enforcement.
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