On Reveal, we share how the government failed to stop the flow of millions and millions of pills that fuelled the national painkiller epidemic. A Washington Post/60 Minutes partnership with Reveal tells the story of a DEA insider who tried to stop drug distribution companies from flooding America with truckloads of pain pills. His effort was met with backlash from his own agency, the pharmaceutical industry and Congress.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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About a year and a half ago, health rewarder at the Washington Post name, Lenny Bernstein started reporting on the huge number of Americans gang of drug overdose. His editor at a pretty simple question about how it all starts with prescription painkillers. She came to me, and she said what I'd like you to do is to explain to people How all those pills got on the street. That doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Either somebody put them out there or somebody. Let them go out there. So great question: Lenny started he didn't know then, but the story was gonna led him into the halls of power to the Justice Department to Capitol Hill the White House to drug industry. The Washington Post assembled a reporting team around the project, including investigative reporter Scott higher, where I'm a reporter fur.
About thirty years and its it's the swampy US thing I think I've ever seen and wash and what they found. Raises serious questions about our federal government's role in obesity epidemic and it takes us deep inside ugh enforcement administration. The de Witt teaming up with the Washington Post and sixty minutes to answer the question: why was Erica, flooded with pain pills in the first place reveals research. Esque he's gonna guide us through this one. When one is editor. First gave him this assignment. He started cold, calling a ton of people. He was trying to and out. Why didn't some one stop the flow of pills? Finally, someone
Let me you know you have to talk to Joe run as easy. This is what he didn T retired recently Joe ran his easy had just retired, from a position high up in the d, a so called him, and I just looked out because I caught him at the right time. He had just been pushed out of a job he loved and that a job where he felt he was making a real difference, really doing something about the deaths that we were seeing on the street, and he was just you know, explosive. His the conversation was explosive. I mean I couldn't get em off the phone. Joe wanted money to know about these companies that he said were largely responsible for the opium epidemic. Not pharmaceutical manufacturers, companies called distributors who actually ship the drugs, the three big our moccasin and their resource Bergen in car.
They control pretty much the whole market. These distributors make billions every year. There are some of the largest american companies of any kind, but Lenny Health reporter knew almost nothing about them. So Joe, kind of school in me on this, and he was singing the are responsible. There are hundreds of millions of mobility on the streets, killing people right now that don't need to be there. I went to the Deasey suburbs to meet Joanna Zizi. He came to the door of townhouse wearing jeans and comfortable shoes. He's got close cut, salt and pepper hair and a half Dog named banjo, wants to jump all over. No, no job those got a basement full of paperwork and guitars. He keeps meaning the play more towards none time, flee did you say in I can't We imagined Joe on a stage he gives a no nonsense street smart vibe, like a seasoned, beat cop. He started
As a DE street agent in the nineteen eighties, mostly in Detroit down dealers, you could be coming into in Detroit in the morning and end up in Albuquerque. Next, on the afternoon, he worked on all kinds of cases told Heroin, we'd club drugs, a party drugs. He did undercover buys pretty simple, actually just attack convincing you and he loved it best job. You could imagine protecting people, that's what's import I want to make sure that I did my part along the way. He worked cases where prescription drugs were sold on the street and he perfected is training, so he go after bigger and bigger fish Joe has a large degree and a pharmacy degree.
In two thousand and six Joe was promoted to a new position in D c d headquarters, he'd be in charge a special unit called diversion control, not as glamorous busting heroin rings and making headlines. In fact, it was kind of a d a backwater. It was a small unit that dead did a lot with very little. Their mission was to keep corruption, drugs from ending up in the hands of drug users and dealers. This was just as the opium epidemic was getting out of. Control Millions and millions and millions of tablets, were leaving the pharmacies and going into the communities and people were overdosing and it was just ass. It was a nightmare. More than ten thousand all would die of prescription drug overdoses that year so Joe when, after the bad doctors, he went after the bad pharmacies, but then he noticed thing, we're noticing that the distributors were sending these huge amounts.
Drugs into these he's pharmacies without looking at them. Without any due diligence without filing suspicious order reports, since fishes order reports the companies are legally required to report any oddly huge orders to the d A, but some companies warrant reporting them, since they would do all that. At that point we decided that now we need to take a top down approach. Ouch Joe decided to go. The distributor sending those truckloads of drugs around the country, so we're standing in front of the of very large cardinal health distribution Centre, when he and I visited this big beige building on the edge of the city to see the distributors and action shipping and receiving as behind a big security gate trucks are pulling in and out
tributaries the wholesale distributors get the judge from manufacturers the opiates and they ship them out to the places where you and I consume them. We will be by them. These are high tech, warehouses, but sophistical tracking systems, cardinal ships, all kinds of medicine, the hospitals in pharmacies across the country, but not all the pain pill, go to people who really need them. The size of the earth shipments coming out of warehouses like this tell us the whole story just to give you a sense of the scale here between two hundred and seven and twenty twelve distributors, nine million hydro code on pills to pharmacy single pharmacy in Kermit, West Virginia which is a town of three hundred ninety two people nine million hydrocortisone pills for a town of Three hundred and ninety two people, if all those
Those were really for the people of current West Virginia Man, woman and child would have to take at least twelve pills a day every day for those five years the DE eight Joe had a tool he could use to stop trucks from even leaving the warehouse in a situation like that, an immediate, pension order. Just think of it. This way, an immediate suspension order says, I'm coming in your facility and I'm stopping you from dispensing distributing doing anything with controlled substances. Until we all could figure out what's going on and we're going to do that before a judge, I don't have to wait a year for a criminal case to go through or for a civil action go through I could stop it now. Joe put the companies on notice, they would be held responsible if pills. I shipped ended up on the street if they didn't follow the law. He'd get an immediate suspension order and stop their shipments. After that, sometimes the company would get sick.
With a multi million dollar fine, which sounds like a lot, but these her fortune, five hundred companies It just seem like no one in the industry cared, it's almost like. They did a cost benefit analysis and they said well. If I can make you know hundreds of millions of dollars doing yes and I'm gonna, be fine, thirty, fifty a hundred million dollars, then what the heck does that mean, making all this money. So why are we just continue? It was mine blown by two thousand and ten, as the opium epidemic starts to explode, Joe small legal team is humming bad near they filed fifty two of those immediate suspension, orders against doctors, pharmacies and distributors. It was really glories time because they were just knock and of dead. They were just like filing and filing hearing.
I was wondering: how could these distributors just keep on shipping pills? How did they justify it? I asked Glennie, haven't you ever heard like a direct explanation, the companies why they weren't reporting the red flags are taking this on a systematic way. I've read many explanations because, as they would fight these things out in court, they would give their side. So there are volumes in these court cases of the company sing. Well, we have all these huts fist kidded analytics that look at these drug flow and we are super cautious about it and we don't send anything out where we think there's any kind of a problem, and you know How can you expect us to know? What's going on in fifty five thousand drugstores that we supplied? Some of them are three thousand miles away, and you expecting us to know that their suspicious
ordering going on in some little mom and pop drugstore in West Virginia, and we try our best. I asked the Distributors Association that health care distribution alliance for an interview, but they wouldn't do one in a statement. They but on their website they say. But they never got enough guidance from the d a about how to follow the laws they sent. Else to the Washington Post saying that the epidemic is not their fault, that over prescribing by doctors is the real problem Jos Team, was going after doctors and pharmacies too, but by two thousand twelve he its sights set on the biggest distributors? His team found then, a cardinal warehouse was shipping, huge orders of oxy co down to four pharmacy
Sandford Florida again Lenny Bernstein the Cardinal case, the average drugstore in the area of Florida, that the De Folkestone would hand out, like sixty five thousand doses of actually a year in two thousand twelve and then the ones that they went and invested. They were doing two million well, what's going on there, the pharmacist would fill prescriptions for oxy code on even if a customer use street slang by asking for the endless or the blues. Sandford Florida attracted dealers from his father. Away way as Kentucky. So if you had a thirty milligram actually code on, you might be able to demonstrate for thirty bucks, so ITALY. If you had thirty of those you get, there were nine hundred dollars, There are three hundred of those in a watchword: nine thousand dollar, so
that's a lot of money. This black market gave new meaning to the term. Drugstore is just what you would think: there's a drugstore and then there's a lie out. The door hit fills the lobby, I'm unthinkable. Last time you went to the extort right. Was there a line out the door into the parking lot going, although it now and there's a parking lot filled with out of state tags and there might be a drug dealer too. In the parking lot. Somebody selling to somebody else and and then there would be these signs- you know would say something like you, know: cash, only ox thirty. You have to do, is go there and look at the place now. You should have seen that, and they I believe they did. Joe believe they knew because he'd already done one case against Cardinal back in two thousand seven: they paid a fine, thirty four million, and they promised to do better monitoring shipments. This time was more important
because they were doing the same thing. They did previous time- and this is the time I said: look we gave you your chance. You pay a minor fine. Now Emory, which is what we should be done. That's what regulators do? those preparing his case. This is in the beginning of twenty. Twelve is confident he's never lost any of the cases brought against distributor. So far, then he gets some and to a meeting at the Department of Justice
The meeting will be a signal. Things are about to change cases. We just sit and languish for weeks for months for a year the industry pushes back. That's a head on reveal from the centre for investigative reporting in p r ex vis is reviewed, now. Let me telling the story of pharmaceutical distributors companies. They help flood the black market with paint pits, The guy at the d, a who tried, started his name Joe rare disease. Its February two thousand twelve Jones In building a case against one of the biggest companies Cardinal Health, Joe calls it the case of his dreams happened just as he's preparing to violate the companies
Pushing back he's reveals lost, are just the backlog against Joe ran would come in waves, health reporter! Any Bernstein of the Washington Post describes it this way the industry said: okay, we we have to fight back. We have to push back on this guy He is really making our lives measurable, and we begin to see this strategy which took place in a lot of places on the hill via the Justice Department The Justice department started pushing back against show when he was just about the file immediate suspension orders in the cardinal case to stop some of their shipments. Got some into a meeting with top staff at justice. Basically has bosses bosses Joseph them since he got was be friendly or to the industry, and will be watching you here I held the cardinal case anyway. Just decided that instead of dropping
we're just gonna be a little more aggressive. Maybe a lot more aggressive. Then later that gear, the d, a hired, a new lawyer in charge of reviewing Jos cases. It spent his career at justice before taken the job within a few weeks. Everything kind of change there, turning cases down or not over returning cases down but basically sitting. I can sing ere you gotta do the following things before will even look at the case. In these cases the same acts of cases that we ve been doing for years. These words, small delays. Scott hi, I'm at the Washington Post, says that what Joe describe sounded like a massive slow down, so they were made these cases Seven, the Washington and in the cases we just sit and languish for weeks from months for a year so as well. If that's really the case, then I need to go talk to the people were making the cases.
Scott started digging up contacts for DE investigators around the country. Who'd worked under Joe Jim Gelbard in Detroit was one of them. It seems everything we submit, needs more information, more more crime duration, re interview we ve already interviewed two and three times in twenty thirteen Geldof was working on a case against distributor called Miami Lucan that he found was shipping way too many pills to West Virginia Register for the market. That was very, very difficult as yet overdose. There increasing dramatically and West Virginia in and yet a compromise showing me the market for actually called on and hydro code on, and we can't seem to convince people that this is something that needs to be done, and that was very frustrating. Scott gather accounts, like from agents in Michigan Ohio. Georgia They were only anecdotes, though showing what happened to it.
Case here- a case there, but he Mason the whole in turn DE I records that would show a national hatter. Okay, so Scott pulls out a pile of homer to show me how this this pile here, It is about two inches of documents, all written by an administrative judge named John Maroni who oversaw all the DA's cases against distributors. It's a huge stack of his quarterly reports. Are you stupid? Just put them in order in chronological order and just read them, and then the story starts to kind of, like the clouds part, and you can start to see the stars. At the very beginning of these documents of the time frame that we looked at. You know he writes these reports, saying, disability a quarter. You mean all these cases and keep up the good work you know and and then is- importing time he starts to write in these reports that now
the cases are starting to slow down. What's going on, you know and then the next quarter. It's like this is stunningly low for a national program. How come we don't have any cases that we have an epidemic going on? Why Why are there no cases coming into my judges? What are you guys doing? We're just like Holly Crap, and this is confirmation that best kind confirmation that you can possibly have it's, not just that these distributors are pouring all these drugs. To our cities and towns and turning their heads and ignoring the fact that their being diverted to the black market, it's worse than that again. He Bernstein the dossier which is supposed to be stopping. This has very dramatically slowed its efforts I asked the d a for an interview about the slow down, so they could explain what happened, but they wouldn't talk about it. They are
so turned down interviews with the Washington post. Instead, they send us, a man with a list of their enforcement programmes. It said we have because he stuff we need the fix, but we now have good folks in place and are moving in the right direction. The slow down was just the beginning by this we have twenty fourteen. The pushed back against Joanna GCSE team had moved the Capitol Hill Mommy Furthermore, debating a new bill called the ensuring patient access and effective drug enforcement act. This police stops drug enforcement. So even the title is a lie. The title doesn't portray what actually in the bill in that's what
with horrible. The bill promised effective drug enforcement, but it would make it harder for Joe to stop those huge shipments of pills. He'd always had to prove this many would cause an imminent threat to the public that the pills would likely end up on the street. People could overdose now the threat would have. To be immediate, practically instant and impossibly high bar one. A ship, those leaves the facility it might not get to the pharmacy for two days three days that drug might sit on the shelf for another two weeks. So, according to new, Phoenician, it's no longer an imminent threat, because it's not media People from the industry argued for the law because they said DE enforcement was too harsh. It was keeping people who actually needed prescription painkillers from
hang them a lawyer. Name. Linden barber made this argument at a two thousand fourteen hearing about the bill. I believe that the aid goes care about. Barber actually used to work with Joe at the dossier. He helped develop Jos legal strategy against distributors, then, in twenty eleven he switched sites with we started working at a private law firm that represents the distributors. Including Cardinal William? I do believe it s a long time. The EU employees I've been gone for two and a half years. I believe the agency cares about patient access, but again it's the unintended consequences. Mr Rehn, is easy, testified previously and and knowing him he's a pharmacist, he does care about patient access. I'm just not convinced that the way the the agency handles enforcement activities contemplates all of the unintended consequences in the supply chain.
Patients should have known that medicine does cases based on established case law. This are this story line that legitimate pay and he should know better than that. It turns out Linden. Barber didn't just argue for the law, people are dying, is an outrage and he should know better than that It turns out Linden, barber didn't just argue for the law. According to a justice too, I'm an email, Scotland, he got a hold of he helped craft it. We tried to talk to him about it, but he declined and barber wasn't the only one from Jos team to switch sides here. Scott again, we found without Reeve looking that hard
that there were at least, I think, like thirty or thirty, one people senior people from that division that were recruited by these very same companies and were installed and very key positions and some of them in legal position. So they knew the DE easily Joe tried to fight the bill. He spoke up on a conference call with lawmakers, there's no recording of the call, but he remember saying he didn't like the bill, because it would protect companies that word friends call with lawmakers, there's no recording of the call, but he remember saying he didn't like the bill, because it would protect companies that word defendants in DE cases.
After the claw Tom Marino, the republican congressmen from Pennsylvania sponsored the bill showed up at a hearing on Capitol Hill. He called out Joe and his entire strategy against the distributors. Big fines make headlines, but that is all they do. Press releases do not save lives, understanding that Joe ran Zizi, seeing your d official as Public the accused We sponsors of the bill of quote supporting criminals, unquote this offends me immensely a week. Marina wrote a letter accusing Joe of serious misconduct and intimidating members of Congress. The office of Inspector general at the Justice Department launched an investigation Walmart knows bill was being debated. The drunkenness
three spent millions of dollars, lobbying Congress it finally passed last year it practically neutralize the d s ability to go after distributors, the public we shoulda billowed books. Somebody somewhere used influence to get this he's a trash through and the only people that dinner benefit from it is public. Public health and safety Tom Marino refused. Multiple interview requests, but Lemnians got a sixty minutes. Crew went to his office to try to talk to him hi please just like this. We could accomplish coming.
He's staffers told them to get the camera out, and then they called the capital police. Overhear virtuosos forces have been covered. Washington on an offer, thirty years and have never had anybody call the police on me before anywhere never mind a member of Congress. nothing ever came of the inspector generals investigation into Joe by the wagon, but at the d a Jos Office was moved down. The hall away from the action between you,
destinations and the fact that I wasn't getting anything done, because the attorneys- and you just got to point were No, it wasn't working, nothing was working anymore, Joe, was replaced and pushed out he retired in October of twenty fifteen and the cases against the distributors. There have been very few since Then here Scott, it's gonna come to a halt. You know a lot of people in the d, a lovely People who are in this diversion world feel like they ve lost, that the corporations have one and that they have lost that the amount of influence that these companies have in Washington. With me,
where's of Congress with people who used to work for the d, a in the Justice Department who are now lobbyists have put an enormous amount of pressure on the partner justice Amity a to knock it off, and meanwhile the desk continue to rise. The cases continue to either far stagnate Joe says he keeps meaning the fix up. His old guitars in the basement start playing again, but even though he is technically retired, he hasn't really had time for that. One that's gonna, stop versus before these operations, takes a major legal head and that's the way Stop Since Joe was unable to stop the opium crisis from inside the d, a he's now trying to help stop it from the outside, his advice
several teams of lawyers who are going after the distributors, their planning to sue the opiate industry on behalf of several states for the harm they have caused. One lawsuit has already been filed on behalf of the Cherokee Nation, Joe hopes companies will be made to pay for the devil, using. The epidemic has brought the countless cities and towns of Cross America and that somehow he can make up for all the truckloads of pills he couldn't hold back when he worked for the d, a not gone away just now. Go away. You know a lot of people
died under my watch and I'm just not. I have to live with that. Every day lost are chaskey, produce that story with our partners at the Washington Post at sixty minutes. Since the beginning of the abuse of epidemic, almost two hundred thousand people have died of prescription drug overdose. That's more than three times the number of american soldiers killed in the Vietnam WAR. In response to version of the story from the Washington Post is sixty minutes. There have been a few developed one about Tom Arena. The congressmen called the cops on lenient Scott when they were trying to get answers about his pro industry law presidential had nominated him to be. His drugs are in charge. The national offices of drug control, Pulse Marine as now pulled his name from consideration. Another development law make
now proposing bills that would essentially reversed Marinos law once again, making it possible for the De Aids slow. The flow of pills from distributors are next about gas. We're going to see The opiate epidemic is destroying people's lives through the story of one man who reported video diaries as he fell deeper into addiction. His widow found those videos his death and decided to watch them to come to grips with losing him. I'm about to start watching some of the videos. I'm nervous, I'm a little anxious but you don't watch them because I need to know that's on the next episode. Of revealed.
Lost, I Chaskey produced. I show this week with our partners from the Washington Post and sixty minutes. Thanks suggests lean David Phallus, Owsley and I rose, and for the help our show was Eddie by Susan Labour. W why why in Philadelphia provided production support are leads designer and engineer. Is Jim Briggs get help this week from Catherine Raimondo and catch shouldn't? Amy Pasok, editor in chief executive producers, Kevin Sullivan, a theme is because by Colorado like support for reveals, provided by the River and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D and Catherine T Macarthur Foundation, the genus and James out my foundation, the Housing Simons Foundation and the ethics and excellence in journalism foundation reveal is a co production of the centre for investigative reporting and p r eggs. A malady and remember. There is all.
More to the story. These are last few shows of the year, and let me tell you in twenty twenty we are bringing the fire launching some of our most ambitious projects we ve ever done. I can wait for you to hear them reveal is all about going deep pulling on threads telling stories that matter and this kind of investigative journalism. Well, it takes time and it costs money. These are the final weeks
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Transcript generated on 2019-12-21.