Rochester Drug Cooperative (RDC) is the first company to be charged for knowingly pumping fentanyl, oxycodone and other opioids into America’s most drug overdosed cities and towns. In the wake of that lawsuit, Tarbell found RDC has been deeply tied to a lobbying organization that presents itself as an advocate for small business, independent community pharmacists.

This week, RDC became the first drug distributor convicted for its malicious sales of opioids to Americans, charged with conspiracy to violate narcotics law, conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and willfully failing to file suspicious order reports between 2012 and 2016 as the company reached its highest revenues yet.

The company is a corporate partner of the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA). The group promotes itself as an advocate for independent pharmacists in a consolidating industry. (Rochester is still listed as a partner on NCPA’s website.)

The national organization, which represents independent pharmacists and counts more than 22,000 pharmacy owners as members, launched a grassroots lobbying campaign in 2009 with just $250,000 to promote independent pharmacists’ businesses. The organization has recently turned to regulation of pharmaceutical benefit managers, the middlemen distributors that NCPA representatives blame for consolidating the industry and raising drug costs. NCPA has grown into a greater lobbying force, contributing nearly $1 million to candidates and committees on both sides of the aisle in the 2016 and 2018 elections and expending $1.25 million on lobbying in 2018, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

As a member of the NCPA, RDC contributed at least $50,000 annually to the organization’s Legal/Legislative Defense fund during the 2016 election cycle. But based on revelations from DEA investigations and internal lawsuits, RDC appears to be the exact force NCPA should fight.  

Founded in 1905, RDC may have maintained this appearance through its status as a “cooperative of pharmacies.” But since former chief executive Laurence “Larry” Doud III took the helm in 1991, the company elevated to a multibillion dollar company. Between 2012 and 2016, RDC’s oxycodone tablet sales grew from 4.7 million to 42.2 million, and fentanyl sales grew from 63,000 doses to 1.3 million, according to reports. The company reportedly makes an estimated $1 billion in annual revenue.

The company came under intense scrutiny of the Drug Enforcement Agency for its rapid opioid sales between 2012 and 2016, and during this period RDC’s compliance team admitted that it noted it failed to report drug sales and theft of opioid painkillers. The company announced Doud III’s retirement in April 2017, and a year later Doud III sued the current CEO Joseph Brennan and chief financial officer John Kinney for $2 million for allegedly spinning the blame for the federal investigation into the company’s sales of opioids.

As his salary reportedly climbed to $1.5 million a year before he was shuffled out, Doud III grew more generous in contributions to the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA). Since the 2012 election cycle, Doud III contributed $8,290 to the organization, surpassing $4,000 in small donations during the 2016 cycle. Doud’s son, Laurence Doud IV, also donated $4,000 in the same time span, as he transitioned from director of RDC to Quality Care Pharmacy, another Rochester-based company within RDC.

RDC isn’t the only major drug distributor to hide itself behind NCPA’s “Voice of the Community Pharmacist” slogan: other foundation partners include AmerisourceBergen, AstraZeneca, and Purdue Pharma.

In a final ironic twist, NCPA and the Health Distributors Alliance – two organizations in which the criminally charged RDC counts itself a member – list themselves as part of the national educational organization, “Allied Against Opioid Abuse.”