By Gary Craig Public safety watchdog reporter – Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Rochester Drug Cooperative, the former pharmaceutical distributor implicated in the nation’s deadly opioid pipeline, has settled a lawsuit brought by the family of a New Jersey woman who overdosed on a powerful fentanyl-based opioid.
Court records show that the cooperative, or RDC, agreed to a settlement in late May with the family of Sarah Fuller, who died at age 32 in 2016. No specifics about the settlement were detailed in court records.
Attorneys declined to reveal the amount.
“I did this for Sarah,” her mother, Deborah Fuller, said in a telephone interview. “I’m upset that it took years to happen. She deserved recognition that she didn’t just go out in the streets and buy drugs and OD.
“This was done by people who just wanted more money. They didn’t care about breaking rules.”
Having been injured in two separate car accidents, Sarah Fuller dealt with chronic pain, especially in her back and neck where she suffered herniated discs.
A series of prescribed pain medications led Fuller to the potent and dangerous opioid, Subsys, which is 100 times stronger than morphine.
The Insys Therapeutics company manufactured Subsys for cancer sufferers confronting severe pain. However, Insys officials then conspired to flood the market with the opioid, allowing it to be used well beyond its intent.
Upper-level Insys executives who bribed and gave kickbacks to physicians who over-prescribed the drug have been convicted of racketeering.
Sarah Fuller received Subsys through a Long Island pharmacy, Linden Care, which regularly used RDC for its pharmaceutical deliveries. RDC’s former Chief Executive Officer, Laurence Dowd III, was convicted in February of a conspiracy to illegally distribute dangerous opioids. He is scheduled to be sentenced June 29.
Doud’s federal trial in Manhattan revealed the extent of RDC’s business with Linden Care and Doud’s refusal to provide checks and balances with the pharmacy’s ballooning demand for Subsys, according to an attorney for the Fuller family.
Asked why he thought RDC agreed to a settlement after fighting the case in court since 2019, the attorney, Richard Hollawell, said, “I think it was just the nasty facts of their role along with the Doud criminal trial and testimony that came out showing the relationships between RDC and Linden Care.”
Lawyers for RDC could not be reached for comment.
Doud was the first pharmaceutical distributor to be accused and subsequently convicted of narcotics trafficking. Similarly, RDC as a company admitted to trafficking, the first distribution company to do so.
After years of swelling profits and growth partly driven by opioid sales, RDC, which was based in Gates, found itself targeted by lawsuits and creditors and declared bankruptcy in 2020.
RDC sought to have the Fullers’ lawsuit resolved as part of its bankruptcy, but the Fuller family attorneys argued that any award to the Fullers should come from RDC’s insurers and not from assets divided between a bounty of creditors.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Paul Warren agreed, saying that forcing the Fuller family to wait out a lengthy bankruptcy proceeding would be the same as “the closing of courthouse doors in their faces, depriving them of the chance to seek and maybe find a measure of justice.”
The family has reached a settlement with the prescribing physician and with Linden Care and is awaiting a decision about the amount of an award from an Insys bankruptcy. Each of those individuals and companies, along with RDC, played a part in Sarah Fuller’s death, said attorney Mark Dewland, who also represented the family.
“Something of this magnitude doesn’t take place unless every link in the chain is involved,” he said.
Dewland is a longtime friend of the Fullers, and knew Sarah Fuller from the time when she was a teen. He said “the tenacity of the family” motivated him with the lawsuit.
The family first sued Insys and others, then added RDC as a defendant when its role became more apparent in 2019. RDC lawyers unsuccessfully tried to block its addition as a defendant, claiming there was little proof of its direct links to the drug that killed Fuller — a claim that was greatly weakened with testimony in Doud’s criminal trial.
“This whole road was a long and winding road and a rough one,” Deborah Fuller said. “She’s been gone six years and it feels like it was yesterday.”