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Witness says he was berated for questioning opioid sales orders 

Oxycodone pills

Oxycodone pills   Credit: AP/Mark Lennihan

A compliance officer for an opioid manufacturer testified Tuesday in Central Islip that he was berated by a top sales executive in 2015 for holding up an order for Oxycodone from a Florida grocery chain — even though pharmacies in the chain’s supermarkets had sold the potentially deadly painkiller to unscrupulous doctors and pill mills.

Joe Tomkiewicz, responsible for making sure Teva Pharmaceutical Industries complied with federal law and Drug Enforcement Administration regulations on the manufacture and sale of drugs, testified that he learned through Google searches that Publix pharmacies had sold opioids to pain clinics operated by physicians with no pain management training. The clinics insisted on cash payments, which suggested they were operating pill mills, he said he found.

Tomkiewicz testified that he was verbally bullied by Christine Baeder, then a Teva vice president for sales, for making waves that could jeopardize sales, profits and the drug company’s relationship with Publix, one of Florida’s largest retailers.

Tomkiewicz testified under questioning from plaintiffs’ attorney Tom Cartmell in a deposition videotaped in 2018 and played Monday for the jury that will rule on the landmark opioid lawsuit filed by Nassau, Suffolk and New York state.

"Publix is potentially a very big, or is a very big, customer, " Cartmell said. "She didn’t want to lose those sales or that profit, correct?"

"I’m going to say that is a fair assessment," Tomkiewicz said.

The state and the counties claim that opioid manufacturers and distributors created a public nuisance and are responsible for the opioid epidemic that had claimed thousands of lives on Long Island and across the state in recent years. They hope to recoup millions of dollars for drug treatment, recovery and prevention.

One Publix pharmacy supplied opioids to a physician who was disciplined for abandoning an anesthetized patient so the doctor could inject herself with a sedative, Tomkiewicz said.

Yet another Publix pharmacy supplied opioids to a clinic in Atlanta, more than 600 miles away, he said.

"That’s a red flag, isn’t it?" Cartmell asked.

"I would say that is a red flag," Tomkiewicz replied.

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Allergan and Endo International remain as defendants, along with distributor AND A Pharmaceutical. AND A was sued by the counties but not the state.

Three defendants — distributors Cardinal Health, Americsource Bergen and McKesson — were dismissed as defendants in the lawsuit late last month as part of $1.1 billion settlement with New York and the counties. The deal is part of a proposed $26 billion national settlement with manufacturers and distributors of opioids.

The companies say they're not responsible for the epidemic and are being made scapegoats to those who are responsible, including illicit drug dealers, health regulators who encouraged opioid use and doctors who overprescribed painkillers.

Tomkiewicz and his supervisor, Colleen McGinn, both testified Monday that Teva had inadequate systems in place to detect suspicious orders placed by unscrupulous customers. McGinn reported that Teva had not reported one suspicious order — among hundreds of thousands placed — between 2006 and 2012 and was stymied by pressure to increase sales and profits.

In 2012, a consultant told the company that the algorithm its computers used to detect suspicious orders was unsophisticated and not up for the job. But the company did not replace its diversion detection program with a more sophisticated for two and a half years, she said.

Also Monday, attorneys for the plaintiffs filed papers that said Endo and its law firm Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP had concealed "vast troves of smoking gun evidence proving Endo’s grave misconduct in New York."

The plaintiffs’ attorneys asked Supreme Court Justice Jerry Garguilo to issue a default judgment against the company, which the lawyers said had irreparably damaged the counties and the state’s right to a fair trial. Garguilo said he will schedule a hearing on the matter at a later time.

Testimony resumes Tuesday at Touro College in Central Islip.

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