FedEx accused of delivering drugs for illegal pharmacies

FedEx Corporation, a Memphis-based global courier delivery company, was indicted last week for shipping drugs for illegal online pharmacies. A federal grand jury charged the company with 15 counts of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and misbranded drugs and drug trafficking.

The charges carry a fine of twice the profits from the conduct, which in this case may reach $820 million, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

This case raises the bar on federal efforts to fight prescription drug abuse, Bloomberg noted. "Targeting a company that's two, three steps removed from the actual doctor-patient, pharmacy-patient relationship is unprecedented," said attorney Larry Cote, former associate chief counsel at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, to Bloomberg. Further, this case may discourage mail-order pharmacies' use of express delivery.

Illegal web-based pharmacies that mushroomed in the late 1990s required little more from patients than filling out a form describing their symptoms, according to USA Today. These patients were never examined by qualified medical professionals, the government alleges.

The government's case will hinge on what authorities told Fedex about the pharmacies and what the company knew about them, Cote added. To this point, the government claims drug enforcement officials warned senior leaders at FedEx staring in 2004 that illegal online pharmacies were using the company to dispense prescription drugs, Reuters reported.

Moreover, FedEx employees raised safety concerns up the corporate ladder. Drug delivery destinations included parking lots, schools and empty homes where groups of people would wait for packages, prosecutors say. And FedEx trucks were sometimes intercepted on route by pill seekers, USA Today noted.

Yet the company denies wrongdoing. "We want to be clear [about] what's at stake here, " said Patrick Fitzgerald, Fedex's senior vice president of marketing and communications, in a statement. "[T]he government is suggesting that FedEx assume criminal responsibility for the legality of the contents of the millions of packages that we pick up and deliver every day. We are a transportation company--we are not law enforcement."

For more:
- here's the USA Today article
- see the Bloomberg Businessweek article
- view the Reuters article
- read the Fedex response