HHS officials accused of being part of a criminal conspiracy to help the makers of the fentanyl fentanyl were allegedly trying to influence the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve the drug for use in pain and pain management.
The investigation by the U,S.
Department of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was launched on Oct. 19, 2017, after news outlets published the names of more than 30 people who worked at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The names were released following a lawsuit by a group of doctors, including Dr. James LaRosa, who said they had been part of an effort to prevent the FDA from approving the drug and to force the government to buy the drug from Purdue Pharma.
LaRosa has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the department, the DEA and Purdue Pharma, which said it had “unlawfully and unlawfully retaliated against Dr. LaRoscosa” for criticizing the agency’s approval process.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court in Detroit, alleges that LaRosis, the head of Purdue Pharma’s OxyContin and other painkiller maker, and two other employees conspired to pressure the FDA to approve Purdue’s painkiller for use as a treatment for pain in the first six months of 2018.
“I have no doubt that [Purdue Pharma] would have been fine had the FDA not approved the fentanyl,” LaRoses attorney, Stephen E. Gage, told ABC News on Monday.
“They’re doing this for the profits and they’re doing it for the political gains.
The drug is a huge success.
They’re just making it available to the government for free.”
The Justice Department and CDC’s investigation found that at least two of the officials who were named as co-conspirators were part of the same conspiracy to push for the FDA’s approval of Purdue’s fentanyl, according to the lawsuit.
The department is also investigating whether at least one of the others had any knowledge of the alleged plot to influence agency officials.
The FDA’s own internal review also found that some officials were aware of the allegations, but were not required to disclose them publicly, according a Justice Department spokesman, Robert B. Barchi.
In a statement Monday, the FDA said it “cannot comment on pending investigations.”
The agency’s inspector general has also opened a criminal investigation into the allegations against the HHS employees.
The agency said it was “reviewing the allegations and has taken appropriate action.”
The Department of HHS did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.