Suit: US drug agency deemed firm 'kingpin' in 'drug cartel'

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration viewed one drug-producing company as the "kingpin within a drug cartel," according to a Tennessee lawsuit over the opioid epidemic.

A nearly 250-page amended complaint filed Monday in Circuit Court for Cumberland County said the DEA labeled Mallinckrodt a "kingpin" because it shipped opioids in high volumes to pharmacies it knew were feeding "pill mills" in Florida, which supplied Tennessee's illegal drug market.

A spokesman for St. Louis-based Mallinckrodt called it a "gross and inflammatory mischaracterization of the facts designed to create headlines."

The new claims come as drug companies field a flurry of lawsuits nationwide over the scourge of opioid abuse.

The Tennessee complaint was filed on behalf of five district attorneys general and a child born addicted to opioids.

It targets Mallinckrodt and other opioid producers; distributors; pharmacies; alleged "pill mill" prescribers; and Richard Sackler, whose family owns Purdue Pharma.

According to the lawsuit, a national account manager for Mallinckrodt once said in a phone conversation with a Florida distributor that the company's opioids were "just like Doritos; keep eating, we'll make more."

The Mallinckrodt spokesman called it "an outrageously callous email from an individual who has not been employed by the company for many years."

"It is antithetical to everything that Mallinckrodt stands for and has done to combat opioid abuse and misuse," he continued.

The lawsuit also says that another drug maker, Endo, at one point chose to exclude Tennessee abuse numbers of one of its opioids from its nationwide calculations because they were so high. They claimed a special "effect of Tennessee" that includes what "might be a more severe group of opioid abusers with more intravenous experience than those in other states," the lawsuit states.

A spokeswoman for Endo did not immediately respond to a voicemail and email requesting comment. Endo's principal place of business is Malvern, Pennsylvania.