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AmerisourceBergen faces another federal subpoena over opioids

Drug distributor AmerisourceBergen says it received a subpoena from federal law enforcement over opioids, and reveals millions in legal costs linked to the opioid epidemic.

AmerisourceBergen, one of the country's largest wholesale drug distributors, disclosed on Thursday that it received a grand jury subpoena from federal prosecutors about opioids in May — a sign of ongoing fallout for the Chesterbook-based company that's become entangled in the opioid crisis.

The subpoena came from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida, and requests documents "primarily relating to certain opioid products and communications with a pharmaceutical manufacturer," according to AmerisourceBergen's financial filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The company said it's in the process of responding to the subpoena.

The filing also detailed a growing list of subpoenas AmerisourceBergen has received in the last nine months from federal authorities about how the company controls and monitors for drug diversion. That list now encompasses subpoenas from federal prosecutors in West Virginia and Michigan, and from the DEA's Orlando office, in addition to subpoenas from federal prosecutors in New York and Colorado that the company disclosed earlier this year.

The company said those subpoenas are similar to one it received from U.S. Attorney's Office in New Jersey last year.

AmerisourceBergen disclosed, as well, that it spent $39 million last quarter on litigation costs, mostly from "opioid lawsuits, investigations, and related initiatives." That amounts to about 10 percent of the $389.2 million in operating income the company earned in the same time period. For the previous three quarters combined, the company reported spending $49.5 million on litigation.

As a distributor, AmerisourceBergen buys drugs from manufacturers and sells them to pharmacies. And it has obligations to report "suspicious orders" of controlled substances, such as opioids, to the DEA — which the company says it does, using complex computer algorithms to identify and freeze shipments.

But hundreds of cities and counties across the U.S. — including Bucks, Delaware, and others in Pennsylvania — have taken aim at both distributors and manufacturers in lawsuits over damages from the opioid epidemic. A group of 41 state attorneys general, including Pennsylvania's Josh Shapiro, launched an investigation into opioid manufacturers and distributors last year.

AmerisourceBergen said in the filings that it's facing litigation from a "significant number" of counties, municipalities, and other arms of the government across a majority of states, and that it's "vigorously defending itself in the pending lawsuits."

The distributor says products made with opioids make up less than two percent of its sales.

"We are dedicated to doing our part as a distributor to mitigate the diversion of these drugs without interfering with clinical decisions made by doctors, who interact directly with patients and decide what treatments are most appropriate for their care," the company told the Inquirer and Daily News in a statement. "Beyond our reporting and immediate halting of potentially suspicious orders, we refuse service to customers we deem as a diversion risk and provide daily reports to the DEA that detail the quantity, type, and the receiving pharmacy of every single order of these products that we distribute."