AP NEWS

Report: Former DEA official consulting for Purdue Pharma

March 20, 2019

STAMFORD — A one-time senior official in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, who testified in 2017 to the U.S. Senate about the agency’s response to the opioid crisis, is now reportedly working as a consultant for OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, which faces hundreds of lawsuits tied to its alleged role in the epidemic.

Demetra Ashley, the DEA’s former acting assistant administrator, is advising the Stamford-based company, according to unnamed sources cited by NBC News. She left the DEA in March 2018 and started Dashley Consulting LLC, as “one of the nation’s leading experts on pharmaceutical regulatory compliance and investigation,” according to her LinkedIn page.

“I have been consulting for members of the industry and I began my consulting business in June 2018 after I retired,” Ashley told NBC. She said she could not confirm or deny the identities of her clients unless “they say it’s okay.”

“There is no indication” that Ashley’s consulting for Purdue is illegal, NBC said. It quoted experts, however, who expressed concerns about former federal officials working for companies that they once regulated.

A Purdue spokesman said Wednesday that the company does not comment on its consultants or experts, “but it is standard practice across all industries and for both sides, plaintiffs and defendants, to consult with appropriate experts. The company certainly has a right to defend itself against such misleading and inaccurate (legal) claims.”

The spokesman was referring to more than 1,000 lawsuits — including ones from Connecticut’s attorney general and about three-dozen cities and towns in the state — that have alleged that Purdue fueled the opioid crisis by deceptively marketing opioids such as OxyContin. Purdue denies the allegations.

Ashley also told NBC News that she had been subpoenaed to be deposed in a consolidated group of approximately 1,500 complaints involving Purdue and several opioid makers, to discuss her work at the DEA to help combat the opioid crisis, according to NBC. Those lawsuits are being processed in a federal court in Cleveland, with the first trial scheduled to start in October.

In her December 2017 testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Ashley covered a number of DEA initiatives to tackle the epidemic of opioid abuse, including measures to counter the writing and filling of “illegitimate” opioid prescriptions.

She also cited the proliferation of illegal opioids including heroin.

“Our nation has been devastated by the opioid abuse, with more than 300,000 opioid-related deaths,” Ashley said. “The epidemic has created a generation of abusers, currently estimated at 12 million. While prescriptions for ‘Schedule Two’ opioids have begun to decline, making Schedule Two opioids less accessible, Mexican drug cartels have filled the void by producing cheap heroin and counterfeit pills, often mixed with fentanyl. The results are tragic.”

OxyContin, Purdue’s top-selling drug, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1995. But its federal regulation has done little to dissuade prosecutors across the country from suing

As the company faces jury verdicts or settlements that could amount to tens of billions of dollars, Purdue CEO Craig Landau confirmed last week that it was considering bankruptcy — a move that could help contain its liability.

pschott@scni.com; 203-964-2236; twitter: @paulschott