By Harriet Ryan, Lisa Girion and Scott Glover
July 10, 2016
In the waning days of summer in 2008, a convicted felon and his business partner leased office space on a seedy block near MacArthur Park. They set up a waiting room, hired an elderly physician and gave the place a name that sounded like an ordinary clinic: Lake Medical.
The doctor began prescribing the opioid painkiller OxyContin – in extraordinary quantities. In a single week in September, she issued orders for 1,500 pills, more than entire pharmacies sold in a month. In October, it was 11,000 pills. By December, she had prescribed more than 73,000, with a street value of nearly $6 million.
At its headquarters in Stamford, Conn., Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, tracked the surge in prescriptions. A sales manager went to check out the clinic and the company launched an investigation. It eventually concluded that Lake Medical was working with a corrupt pharmacy in Huntington Park to obtain large quantities of OxyContin.
“Shouldn’t the DEA be contacted about this?” the sales manager, Michele Ringler, told company officials in a 2009 email. Later that evening, she added, “I feel very certain this is an organized drug ring…”
Purdue did not shut off the supply of highly addictive OxyContin and did not tell authorities what it knew about Lake Medical until several years later when the clinic was out of business and its leaders indicted.
By that time, 1.1 million pills had spilled into the hands of Armenian mobsters, the Crips gang and other criminals.
A Los Angeles Times investigation found that, for more than a decade, Purdue collected extensive evidence suggesting illegal trafficking of OxyContin and, in many cases, did not share it with law enforcement or cut off the flow of pills. A former Purdue executive, who monitored pharmacies for criminal activity, acknowledged that even when the company had evidence pharmacies were colluding with drug dealers, it did not stop supplying distributors selling to those stores.
Purdue knew about many suspicious doctors and pharmacies from prescribing records, pharmacy orders, field reports from sales representatives and, in some instances, its own surveillance operations, according to court and law enforcement records, which include internal Purdue documents, and interviews with current and former employees.
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