Government May File Criminal Charges Against FedEx for Shipping Illegal Prescription Drugs

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FedEx, the private courier delivery company, may face criminal charges in a government investigation targeting illegal drug sales by online pharmacies. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been investigating the role played by FedEx and the United Parcel Service (UPS) in helping online pharmacies illegally distribute prescription drugs.

The government investigation appears to be focused on cracking down on the illegal diversion and distribution of prescription painkillers such as Oxycontin. However, by holding FedEx responsible for determining the legality of contents contained within the packages it delivers, the case could establish a precedent for other types of shipments. Specifically, anabolic steroids (such as testosterone) that are shipped by compounding pharmacies or longevity clinics, which may or may not be operating legally, could be affected.

FedEx and UPS were each served subpoenas by the Department of Justice in the Northern District of California in 2007 and 2008. Federal investigators were examining the role that the two companies played in the transportation of packages on behalf of clients in the pharmacy business.

All drugs involved were legal prescription drugs distributed with a valid medical prescription according to FedEx. The companies that shipped the prescription pharmaceuticals were DEA-licensed pharmacies. Consequently, FedEx claimed it had no way of knowing the contents of the packages. Even if they did know, FedEx would not have been able to determine whether or not the pharmacies were in compliance with the law.

Patrick Fitzegerald, the FedEx Vice President for Corporate Communications, told the Wall Street Journal that FedEx would vehemently defend itself against any and all charges brought by the government in relation to this matter.

“We are a transportation company,” said Fitzgerald. “We are not law enforcement, we are not doctors and we are not pharmacists.”

The federal government appears to taking its “war on drugs” to another level if it follows through on accusations that FedEx “aided and abetted” the illegal distribution of prescriptions drugs. If successful, this could have far-reaching consequences for courier delivery companies.

Should private couriers be expected to closely monitor the legality of anything shipment through its service? In order to determine its legality, couriers would be required to examine all contents. Should FedEx, UPS, et al be “deputized” to perform these “law enforcement” functions?

Mundy, A. & Catan, T. (November 15, 2012). Pain-Pill Probe Targets FedEx, UPS. Retrieved from