Despite the $26 billion global opioid settlement that has been approved by thousands of communities in the U.S. and several state attorneys general in 2022, opioid litigation continues, with the latest lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) against AmerisourceBergen, one of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical distributors. 

The civil lawsuit, filed Dec. 29, 2022 in Philadelphia, accuses AmerisourceBergen, which is headquartered in Conshohocken, PA, of heavily contributing to the county’s opioid crisis by failing to notify the government of the distribution of “hundreds of thousands” of prescribed opioid medicines supplied to pharmacies, according to a DOJ press release.

In its complaint, the agency said that AmerisourceBergen failed to notify The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of suspicious customer orders or conduct.

“This unlawful conduct resulted in at least hundreds of thousands of violations of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The Justice Department seeks civil penalties and injunctive relief,” the press release reads.

The lawsuit accuses AmerisourceBergen of filling and allegedly concealing multiple orders from pharmacies it knew were probably assisting in the diversion of prescription opioids.

Associate U.S. Attorney General Vanita Gupta said, “The Department of Justice is committed to holding accountable those who fueled the opioid crisis by flouting the law.” 

Gupta added, “Companies distributing opioids are required to report suspicious orders to federal law enforcement. Our complaint alleges that AmerisourceBergen — which sold billions of units of prescription opioids over the past decade — repeatedly failed to comply with that requirement.”

In addition, the DOJ is accusing AmerisourceBergen of intentionally altering its internal systems to lower the reported events of suspicious controlled substances. AmerisourceBergen often failed to report the small percentage of orders that they did identify as suspicious, the DOJ complaint alleges.

According to the DOJ, if AmerisourceBergen is found liable, it could face civil penalties depending on when each violation occurred and the type of controlled substance at issue. For instance, the company could face penalties of up to almost $110,000 for each violation relating to a suspicious opioid order not reported after October 2018. This could potentially total billions of dollars in penalties. The court also may award injunctive relief to prevent AmerisourceBergen from committing future CSA violations, the DOJ said.