DEA Targets FedEx, UPS in Online Pharmacy Battle

DEA Targets FedEx, UPS in Online Pharmacy Battle

"We have no interest in violating the privacy of our customers by opening and inspecting their packages in an attempt to determine the legality of the contents," says FedEx spokesperson

SAN FRANCISCO, CA — Charged with cracking down on the diversion of prescription drugs, the DEA has pursed doctors, pharmacists, pharmacy chains, and wholesale drug suppliers. It has now turned a baleful eye on shipping companies as well, with differing results—at least so far.

The Orlando Sentinel reported Tuesday that both UPS and FedEx had admitted in corporate filings that they were the targets of DEA probes into packages of pills shipped from online pharmacies.

Prescriptions filled by online pharmacies are illegal if there is not a real doctor-patient relationship, and the DEA maintains that prescriptions written by “cyber doctors” relying on online questionnaires are not legal.

FedEx has strongly pushed back against the DEA probe, but UPS has now buckled under the pressure.

In a Friday statement, the DEA announced that UPS had agreed to forfeit $40 million it had been paid for shipments by online pharmacies and to enter into a “compliance program” to ensure online pharmacies can’t use its services. The deal was part of a non-prosecution agreement the shipper signed with federal prosecutors in Northern California.

DEA accused UPS of knowingly shipping the illegally-prescribed drugs between 2003 and 2010 because “it was on notice, through some employees” that such activities were occurring. DEA also accused UPS of failing to do anything about it.

“DEA is aggressively targeting the diversion of controlled substances, as well as those who facilitate their unlawful distribution,” said DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart.  “This investigation is significant and DEA applauds UPS for working to strengthen and enhance its practices in order to prevent future drug diversion.”

FedEx may prove a tougher nut to crack. Officials there called the federal probe “absurd and disturbing” and said it threatened customer privacy. They also accused the DEA of failing to cooperate with them in efforts to resolve the problem.

“We are a transportation company — we are not law enforcement, we are not doctors and we are not pharmacists,” FedEx spokesman Patrick Fitzgerald said in a prepared statement. “We have no interest in violating the privacy of our customers by opening and inspecting their packages in an attempt to determine the legality of the contents. We stand ready and willing to support and assist law enforcement. We cannot, however, do their jobs for them.”

FedEx complained that rather than working with the shipping industry to come up with solutions, the Justice Department appeared focused on finding ways to prosecute shippers.

“This is unwarranted by law and a dangerous distraction at a time when the purported illegal activity by these pharmacies continues,” Fitzgerald said.

FedEx has been a major campaign contributor to US Rep. John Mica (R-FL), whom the Sentinel reported had sent a letter to Leonhart and Attorney General Eric Holder asking them to recognize “the difficulty and unfairness of requiring those carriers to assume responsibility for the legality and validity of the contents of the millions of sealed packages that they pick up and deliver ever day.”

Mica told the Sentinel that while he is “concerned about prescription drugs,” it was inefficient to try to turn shipping companies into drug policy enforcers. “You can’t stop commerce; you can’t open every package,” Mica said. “I’m only asking them for a reasonable approach.”

But it doesn’t appear that DEA and the Justice Department are interested in that.

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  • Iwontbecomingback

    This sounds exactly like SOPA, but for package companies. Someone correct me if im wrong, but SOPA would have made individual ISPs responsible for their users actions, just as the DEA is trying to make FedEx and UPS responsible for theirs


    Step 1: Go to
    Step 2: Type DEA
    Step 3: See the truth.

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  • All Sines

    ‘”I’m only asking them for a reasonable approach.” But it doesn’t appear that DEA and the Justice Department are interested in that.’

    The DEA must oppose reason to exist. Drug abuse is a problem affecting the overwhelming minority of ‘certain drug’ users, according to all statistics and evidence on the subject (noting there is no sound evidence proving use and abuse can be ethically swapped for prohibitionists’ convenience, and noting that focus on any activity is impairing in that all other areas outside of such focus are neglected). Drug abuse (regardless of substance legality), like any form of abuse, is a genuine problem, but nothing necessitating the ineffective (we do not even have a drug-free prison system) DEA and the obviously unconstitutional law supporting them.

    To irrationally apply the Commerce Clause to allow Congress to ban non-economic activities involving certain drugs is outrageous, because to abandon rationality is to abandon interpretation, the judicial branch’s sole job. To abandon interpretation is obviously to abandon law, but prohibitionists are hypocritically uninterested in the horrible message that sends to children (not to mention everyone else).

    While I appreciate brutal work done by good law enforcement (wondering how often my life has been unknowingly saved by their tough efforts), and I never demonize, whole truth apparently concludes the DEA will continue to unethically operate as sanctioned thugs until the public feels the negative impact enough to insist our public servants finally dismantle this area of “law enforcement” to refocus such enforcement resources on dealing with actual harm (murder, assault, theft, etc. — many such cases remaining unresolved while billions of taxpayer dollars are spent pretending to prevent certain drug use). Considering the fact that prohibitionists literally cannot sustain a single point in their favor, there is thankfully great momentum in this important direction.

    Ultimately, American society has sadly ignored its obligation to uphold the unalienable right to liberty (part of the “truths to be held self-evident” in our Declaration of Independence) for over two centuries, preferring to embrace hypocrisy by empowering public servants to legally define risk while “talking the talk” about such right. To legally define risk is to unavoidably define liberty against our naturally given and clearly defined right to liberty (extremely defined so the only limit against your liberty is the right itself).

    While legally defining risk seems like a sound decision for parents concerned about their children’s exposure to such risk (including that for drug abuse, of course), and while such law may feel civilized, what remains overwhelmingly avoided in the discussion is the ironic serious risk in allowing public servants to legally define risk (including the slippery slope our society is now gradually sliding down for the sake of the oligarchy spanning the public and private sectors actually running our country). Law always provides an opportunity for the worst form of abuse, given its mainly broad scope of destruction — the abuse of power. History repeatedly shows the utter horror from such abuse.

    The fact is life is risky. Playing tackle football (and many other sporting activities embraced by the young) can even be deadly at times. For people in power to define risk (too often in the name of political and financial self-interests over societal needs) is to create an unhealthy societal rigidity too often crippling responsibly behaving individuals.

    Like a professional athlete staying loose for the game, society needs to stay healthily loose to adapt to reality’s extreme dynamism. Only accurate implementation of the unalienable right to liberty can optimally achieve that, allowing our government only to ensure the protection of our fundamental rights (even using such rights to prevent the occasionally misguided masses from abusing their power by insisting upon wrongful action — e.g. slavery, cannabis prohibition, marriage restrictions, etc.), not grossly empowering a central authority to dominate our lives by their (too often corrupted) opinion of what constitutes acceptable risk.

    The ‘moral police’ (proven throughout history to be too often wrong) need to be stopped by law, not strengthened by it to give them a legal channel to vent their unhealthy stress (frustration and anger) against people harmlessly doing things such as holding a certain plant in their hand.

  • Mike

    Even if the DEA somehow manages to twist FedEx’s arm and get their way, one has to applaud FedEx’s stand in favor of the Constitution and their customer’s rights.

    Guess my packages need to go FedEx in the future.

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  • rr

    the DEA has to be shutdown somehow. They are out of control.