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Thursday, July 20, 2023

DEA's Second in Command Resigns After Past Consulting Period for Opioid Manufacturers is Reported

"Socalj" for Borderland Beat

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s second-in-command has quietly stepped down amid reporting by The Associated Press that he once consulted for a pharmaceutical distributor sanctioned for a deluge of suspicious painkiller shipments and did similar work for the drugmaker that became the face of the opioid epidemic: Purdue Pharma.

Louis Milione’s four years of consulting for Big Pharma preceded his 2021 return to the DEA to serve as Administrator Anne Milgram’s top deputy, renewing concerns in the agency and beyond about the revolving door between government and industry and its potential impact on the DEA’s mission to police drug companies blamed for tens of thousands of American overdose deaths.

Milione is described by DEA Administrator, as a “DEA legend” best known for leading the overseas sting that in 2008 nabbed Russia’s notorious arms trafficker Viktor Bout. Viktor Bout was taken down by undercover DEA informants posing as members of the FARC in Colombia in order to obtain arms. 

During a prisoner exchange earlier this year with Russia, Viktor Bout was released back to Russia in exchange for basketball player Brittney Griner, who had been arrested in Russia for possessing a THC vape pen and was sentenced to 10 years in a Russian prison.

Milione initially left the DEA in 2017 after a 21-year career that included a two-year stint leading the division that controls the sale of highly addictive narcotics. Like dozens of colleagues in the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control, he went to work as a consultant for some of the same companies he had been tasked with regulating.

Big Pharma Consulting Work

AP reported in May that Milione’s consulting included testifying on behalf of the nation’s fourth-largest wholesale drug distributor, Morris & Dickson, as it fought to save its license to supply painkillers to hospitals and pharmacies. A federal administrative judge determined four years ago that the Louisiana-based company failed to flag thousands of suspicious orders at the height of the opioid crisis. 

In October 2017, DEA became aware of the high-volume sales of Oxycodone and Hydrocodone from Morris and Dickson Company to five of the top ten purchasing pharmacies within the state of Louisiana. DEA records indicated that Morris and Dickson Company had not filed any suspicious order reports on any of the pharmacies in question in Louisiana. A review of the purchases made by these high-volume independent pharmacies showed that these pharmacies were purchasing quantities which were not indicative of the pharmaceutical market. Not only were numerous “independent” retail pharmacies purchasing more Oxycodone and Hydrocodone than the largest chain pharmacies operating within the state, they were purchasing more narcotics than several of the largest chain pharmacies combined within the same zip code. In some instances, DEA noted these “independent” pharmacies were purchasing more than ten times the amount of narcotics the average Louisiana pharmacy purchased per month.

But the DEA didn’t move to strip the license until days after the AP inquired about the case.

Most of Milione’s consulting work was done as a senior managing director of Guidepost Solutions, a private investigative firm based in New York. Under his watch, Guidepost expanded its DEA compliance practice, which now includes nine former DEA employees.

Guidepost declined to comment. 

During his time in the private sector, Milione also served as a $600-per-hour expert for Purdue Pharma as it fought legal challenges from Ohio to Oklahoma over its aggressive marketing of OxyContin and other highly addictive painkillers. Milione left the DEA again in late June just four days after AP sought comment from the Justice Department about his prior work for Purdue.

“Working for Purdue Pharma should not help you get a higher job in government,” said Jeff Hauser, the executive director of the Revolving Door Project, a watchdog for corporate influence in the federal government. “Too much collegiality is a problem. It’s hard to view your past and potentially future colleagues as scofflaws. Any independent person would find this abhorrent.”

Purdue said in a statement that its retention of Milione as an expert on DEA compliance issues ended when the Connecticut-based company filed for bankruptcy protection in September 2019. “To the best of our knowledge, no one at Purdue had any business communications with Mr. Milione after he returned to government,” it said.

Purdue has twice pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges for its role in fueling the opioid crisis and last year reached a $6 billion nationwide settlement aimed at staunching a flood of lawsuits from states, Milione produced a 16-page expert report in 2019 that was never introduced into evidence. 

That report, obtained by the AP, praises Purdue’s efforts going back to 2000 to track the illegal sale of opioids by rogue pharmacies and “pill mill” doctors.

“These are the kinds of programs DEA encourages and supports manufactures," Milione said in a statement this week that he stepped down for personal reasons unrelated to AP’s reporting. Both he and the Justice Department said he recused himself at the DEA from all matters involving his private-sector work where there was even the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Milione added that his consulting stint helped drug companies comply with DEA rules, just as his return to government gave the DEA insight into how business decisions are made in the real world.

“I care deeply about the DEA, its mission, and the brave men and women that sacrifice so much to protect the American public,” he said.

No Senate Confirmation Loophole

Milione never faced scrutiny from lawmakers over his consulting before taking the DEA’s No. 2 position because the DEA has for more than a decade not filled the job of Deputy Administrator which requires a presidential appointment and Senate confirmation. 

Instead, the DEA directly hired Milione to fill a career position with essentially the same duties but a slightly different title – “Principal Deputy Administrator” – that requires no such oversight, bypassing the need for confirmation

“DEA has demonstrated a willingness to take painstaking measures to avoid the Senate’s watchful eye – including by potentially using a technicality to shirk Senate confirmation of a key agency decision maker,” said U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

“Avoiding congressional oversight is a tired game the DEA can’t stop playing. It begs the question: What else is the DEA trying to hide?”

John Coleman, who was head of operations for the DEA in the 1990s, said the Biden administration likely never nominated Milione to serve as Deputy Administrator, despite his many qualifications, because his conflicts would have surely raised questions.

“Someone at the agency had to be aware of the implications of bringing someone back who was employed in the industry regulated by the agency,” Coleman said. “It was an obvious and classic conflict.”

No DEA Announcement

The DEA didn’t respond to requests for comment. The Justice Department told the AP that Milione disclosed his potential conflicts when he returned to the DEA and that the principal deputy administrator’s position was created before Milgram’s tenure. It said the process for filling the confirmed deputy administrator position is ongoing and referred further questions to the White House, which did not respond to a request for comment.

The DEA made no announcement of Milione’s most recent retirement but removed his bio from the agency’s website over the July 4 holiday and replaced it with that of his successor, career DEA official George Papadopoulos. 

In an internal email to staff, Milgram hailed the 60-year-old Milione as a “DEA legend” best known for leading the overseas sting that in 2008 nabbed Russia’s notorious arms trafficker Viktor Bout.

“I was thrilled that he agreed to come back home to DEA,” she wrote in a June 26 email obtained by AP. “Lou has used his skills as a master case maker to help us bring cases against entire criminal networks and to investigate the entire global fentanyl supply chain.”

Former DEA official Coleman questioned why Milgram chose Milione as her No. 2 despite his corporate entanglements and whether it was ever realistic for him to be walled off from many of the position’s leadership functions.

“There’s no way to isolate that person from the day-to-day business of the agency, which includes regulating companies that make and distribute controlled substances,” said Coleman, who is now president of Drug Watch International, a not-for-profit that seeks to reduce drug abuse. “I don’t see how that’s possible.”

DEA's Recent Turmoil

Milione’s exit adds to the turmoil at the top of the DEA following a number of other high-level departures, misconduct scandals, and the launch of a federal watchdog investigation into millions in no-bid contracts awarded to past associates of Milgram.

Mostly Republican members of Congress grilled Milgram during a routine budget request in April, and the administrator also is expected to testify later this month in a House oversight hearing looking into the DEA’s operations and effectiveness in combating the flood of fentanyl into the U.S. from Mexico.

Since Milgram took the reins of the DEA two years ago, she has cycled through almost three dozen senior aides, many of them veteran agents who were pushed out or quit due to differences with Milgram. That includes the heads of all of the DEA’s principal divisions as well as the DEA’s chief counsel, its congressional affairs liaison, and the top agent in Mexico.

Milgram’s defenders say that house cleaning is part of an agency-wide reset to combat the fentanyl crisis. She’s also exhibited a zero tolerance for racism and sexism that has festered inside the old-boy network that has long shaped personnel decisions inside the DEA.

“Change is hard and some people don’t like it,” Chuck Rosenberg, a former DEA administrator, told AP this spring. “Time will tell whether she was right or wrong, but my money is on Anne.”

Sources AP News, KTAL


  1. FUCK those Doing Evil Anonymously.

  2. This just proves thats it’s easier to blame foreign countries than doing you work. Purdue got off the hook so easy, it’s ridiculous. But hey keep up n blaming china and mexico.

    1. 09:18 that’s bullshit too. Purdue isn’t responsible for inventing oxycodone or forcing people to be junkies and shoot up fetty under the bridge. Half the kids spun out and down weren’t even born yet during the scandal.

      Millennials can sit down and suck a duck☝️

  3. 96700 so far and 5months more to go.

  4. Lol.. this has to be the “cleanest” shit they have been doing until now.

  5. We are litterly here right now because of Purdue. Stop blaming Mexico when it was Americans who started this bs. Non addictive pain pills lol

  6. Can you blame AMLO for limiting the DEA's involvement in Mexico? How many times has the DEA fucked up that we know of? Wide receiver, fast and furious, Nicholas Palmero, Culiacanazo 1 was supposedly led by the gringos without AMLO's approval, Zambadas claiming the DEA gave them immunity and the U.S not allowing them to speak on that during the trial and now this...

  7. this is completely off topic but I was curious if y'all were going to do a story about the 27 bodies they found in Reynosa? other news sites are covering it but I'd rather read your take on it.

    1. Curious to see who left them..

    2. 11:36:
      These aren't fresh bodies but remains found in several narcofosas over several days. Finding human remains in narcofosas is routine in Mexico. When reported in U.S. news these finds sound quite dramatic, but compared to finding dozens or hundreds of bodies in a single narcofosa, which occurs quite often in Mexico, they don't score high on the news scale in Mexico.
      However, we do appreciate you mentioning a major news story because many of us first hear about these stories on Borderland Beat.


  9. This is what corruption looks like north of the border.

  10. But but but...only Mexico has bad hombres, lol hypocrisy at its finest.

  11. Bout time I’m glad to see there higher ups do something about that corruption going on amongst there federal agencies this is not even the tip of the iceberg.

  12. Been saying it for years American cartels are big pharma just how Sinaloa cartel has high ranking public officials so do American cartels


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